Sporting Kansas City left Providence Park last April with a clean sheet, a statistic so atypical that Portland didn’t allow it to happen once over the ensuing 13 months.
But Sporting KC returned to town Saturday.
And it brought another shutout along with it.
Sporting KC continued its string of success at one of the league’s most formidable venues, earning a 0-0 draw with the Timbers.
Since 2015, Portland has been blanked on its home field three times. Sporting KC has been the culprit on each occasion.
“When we come here, it’s always a great atmosphere — it’s a very tough place to play,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “For us to come in like this ... it says a lot about the group.”
Sporting KC (8-2-5) concluded the evening where it began — atop the Western Conference standings. But it is now reliant on a tiebreaker to remain there after FC Dallas earned all three points earlier in the day.
The offense was left wanting Saturday, though Sporting KC forward Daniel Salloi did clip the underside of the crossbar in the first half. The team did not have a shot on goal in the initial 68 minutes. Its goalkeeper, Tim Melia, made three saves for his seventh shutout of 2018.
But after Vermes called out the effort in a scoreless draw with Columbus two weeks ago, Sporting KC finished a seven-day span with a win against Minnesota, a road victory in the Open Cup and a road point against a Portland club riding an eight-game unbeaten streak.
“There was a different mentality from the Minnesota game on,” Vermes said. “Everybody’s fought for everything we accomplished this week. I’m very, very proud of the guys.”
The thesis of the past two matches prolonged to a third, with Sporting KC relying on teenagers in its starting lineup. After three players younger than 20 got the nod for the Open Cup win during the week, two saw their first MLS regular-season starts Saturday. Vermes placed 18-year-old Jaylin Lindsey on his back line and 19-year-old Wan Kuzain in the midfield. They replaced Seth Sinovic and Yohan Croizet, who were nursing minor hamstring injuries.
Sporting KC captain Matt Besler joined that injury list. Late in the first half, Besler told trainers he was feeling tightness in his left hamstring. He remained on the field for the final moments of the first half but was subbed out in favor of Emiliano Amor after halftime. Vermes said he is optimistic the injury is not serious.
The departure interrupted a historic personal achievement. Besler made his 241st appearance in an MLS regular season match, the most in franchise history. He surpassed a mark previously held by Davy Arnaud.
Even without him, Sporting KC kept Portland off the board in a match featuring two of the hottest teams in the league. Neither team has lost a match in more than six weeks. Sporting KC moved to 3-1-3 on the road, and it has earned a result in six of its eight matches at Providence Park, producing shutouts in three consecutive seasons.
“We were very disciplined (defensively),” Vermes said. “We had to be very good defensively to not get broken.”