A week after signing with Sporting Kansas City in March, Spanish forward Toni Dovale said he expected to endure an adaptation period before he made an impact with his new club. He wasn’t wrong.
In fact, in an early-season match, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes yanked Dovale off the field after deciding he couldn’t keep up with its pace or physical nature.
“He just wasn’t ready for it,” Vermes later said.
He seems to be getting along fine just now.
Dovale scored a pair of second-half goals Thursday night to lift Sporting KC to a 3-1 win against visiting Deportivo Saprissa in a CONCACAF Champions League Group 2 match.
The home victory in front of 16,834 fans put Sporting KC in control of its three-team group. It has totaled four points through two matches.
For Dovale, the encouraging news was this: The first multigoal game of his career came against a team that was decidedly athletic and physical. He was ready for it this time.
“It’s all about time,” Dovale said. “The place where I was playing before is very good for sure, but this is a different way to play.
“I have been working very hard with the fitness coach for the last three to four months. I’m happy because I can see the results.”
They’re showing on the scoreboard. He broke a tie in the 69th minute and added the insurance tally in the 76th minute. He has four goals across all competitions with Sporting KC — three of them in two CCL games. He scored the lone goal in a 1-1 tie with Real Esteli last month.
That was a highlight goal. So was his first one Thursday.
After Sporting KC defender Igor Juliao inadvertently popped up his pass in the penalty area, Dovale struck the ball past Saprissa keeper Dany Alvarez before it even touched the ground.
Minutes later, the work came much easier. A pass from Dom Dwyer — who scored the first goal of the game on a penalty kick in the 14th minute — slowly scooted to Dovale, who fired it into an open net.
“The coach always has had a lot of confidence in me,” Dovale said. “I appreciate that. The only thing I can say to him is thank you, and the way I do that is play as good as I can.”
The performance Thursday put a stamp on an impressive, entertaining performance from Sporting KC.
Four days after setting the franchise’s single-season MLS scoring mark, Dwyer started the scoring with his 20th goal across all competitions — two shy of another franchise mark. He buried his seventh penalty kick of the year in seven tries — even though Alvarez guessed correctly.
Juan Bustos tied the match in the 28th minute, but Sporting KC never relinquished control of the match, and it seems to have put its late-season lull in the rearview mirror.
“I actually think we’re in very good form,” Vermes said. “I think at times it’s not bad to have a game here or there where you get your butt kicked. ... It resets the team, resets the button, and now all of a sudden everyone remembers what you have to do to be successful.”
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.