During a 1-0 loss for Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 27, Sporting Park scored another victory. Even if the home team didn’t.
The soccer-specific stadium tallied its 32nd consecutive Major League Soccer sellout, an ongoing stadium record with seemingly no end in sight. Its atmosphere is big, loud and intimidating. Same as it has been since opening during the summer of 2011.
Except this season there is one primary difference — the home team isn’t winning with the same regularity. The loss last week was Sporting KC’s fifth this season at its home park — as many as the previous two seasons combined.
“We want to win every game, so yeah, we’re disappointed,” coach Peter Vermes said of the home record. “We don’t want to give away points at home.”
Yet they are. At an alarming rate.
So how, in that case, is Sporting KC still in the mix for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference? How is the club on the verge of clinching a spot in the postseason?
Entering Saturday’s tilt in Columbus — scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Columbus Crew Stadium — Sporting KC is the only team in the MLS to sport a winning record away from home. That mark is 6-5-3 after a 2-1 victory in Toronto on Sept. 21.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the teams, but I know when we go on the road, teams have to play — they can’t just sit back,” Vermes said. “When teams want to play, we’re willing to play. I think that’s really helped us a great deal on the road.”
In layman’s terms, the home and road splits aren’t merely happenstance. They come with reasoning, Vermes explains.
“I would never criticize the tactics of a team when they decide they’re going to play a certain way,” Vermes said. “The part of it I think has been a big (problem) is the referees have allowed the slowness of the game to by dictated by the away team as opposed to the speed of the game dictated by the home team.”
The Sporting KC manager is quick to acknowledge his team has benefited from the same style of play that opponents seem to feature when they enter Sporting Park.
It’s been allowed. He believes it shouldn’t be.
“There’s an entertainment value that we all have the responsibility to uphold to the fans — home or away,” Vermes said. “Every team is going to waste time. We’ve all done it before. My point is the personnel on the field in the position of authority is the referee. I feel we need to do a better job of managing those moments.
“It’s a philosophical decision by our league. It depends on what type of game you want to project out of this league.”
As for the time being, Sporting KC must adjust. So far, it hasn’t found a solution to the home woes.
It has on the road in the past, and that may be a positive sign for the future.
Should Sporting KC qualify for the postseason — the club is currently in second place in the Eastern Conference, with the top five teams earning a berth — it may be better prepared to grab some sort of result on the road. And in a two-game home-and-home series, getting any points on the road often decides a series.
“I think what we’ve done is proven we can play and get results on the road,” Vermes said. “If you’re good enough to get into the postseason, that’s something you have to be able to do. ... It’s something we have to do to accomplish the goal of getting to the MLS Cup.”