On a bright, weekday morning last week, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes walked to the northern end of a Swope Park soccer field and instructed his players to do the same. They spent nearly two hours using only that half of the pitch, repeating a practice drill designed to fine-tune a single aspect of their recent play.
It’s a simple idea, but a complex exercise. The club cycled through a wide-ranging variety of scoring scenarios, with Vermes standing at midfield and requesting sequence after sequence.
Until, finally, they perfected it. Forward Dom Dwyer blasted a strike into the back of the net, and a satisfied Vermes signaled the end of the training session.
They need more of that Saturday, when Sporting KC plays host to Montreal at 7:30 p.m. at Sporting Park. Coming off its most dominating performance of the young season — a 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake on April 5 — Sporting KC is still searching for more tallies on the scoreboard.
“We failed in the area of putting the ball in the back of the net,” Vermes said. “... We can be much more productive with the number of occasions we find ourselves in front of the goal with very good chances.”
It’s been a common theme early in the season, especially at home, where Sporting KC has scored only three goals in four matches.
It’s not for a lack of chances. Sporting KC outshot Real Salt Lake 20-5 two weeks ago.
“That was the best game I’ve been involved in, performance-wise, since I’ve been with the club,” Dwyer said. “I thought we played really well. The chances we created were not half-chances. They were good chances.”
And yet ... scoreless.
Sporting KC has been held to one goal or fewer in six of its seven matches across all competitions, but it’s not the statistics that drove Vermes to spend the club’s first bye week of the season working to finish a higher percentage of its scoring chances.
Instead, it’s the old-fashioned eye test. The high-quality scoring chances are there, he says, and many of them should have resulted in goals.
“It’s really just the tiny details that could change that in a second,” Vermes said. “It’s an area we need to get a little better in. I fully have the confidence our group is going to be (better) this Saturday and as we grow into the season because we have a group of guys that I think can really do some things in the final third.”
Dwyer took the blame for the zero after the draw against Real Salt Lake, but it can be shared across the field, Vermes said. It’s not always the final shot that is missing. It’s often the pass.
“What I’m talking about is when you get in the final third, there’s an efficiency to your movement (and) there’s an accuracy in passes,” Vermes said. “From both of those things, there’s production that comes from that. Right now, we need to be more efficient with the ball and with our movement.”
A two-week break could lend to that.
“I’ve been banging them in (during) training this week and last week too,” Dwyer said. “I feel great right now. I feel confident. I think I’ll show that to you guys on Saturday.”
Impact at Sporting KC
• WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at Sporting Park
• TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); WHB (810 AM)
• ABOUT MONTREAL (0-3-3): The Impact sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with a six-game winless streak to begin the season. The club’s newest acquisition, Jack McInerney, is set to play his second game with the Impact, who acquired him in a trade with Philadelphia. McInerney scored in his first game with Montreal during a 1-1 draw against Chicago last week.
• ABOUT SPORTING KC (2-1-2): After opening the season with five consecutive matches against Western Conference opponents, Sporting KC is set to play an Eastern Conference foe for the first time this season. The players say they feel refreshed after enjoying the first bye week of the season. Forward C.J. Sapong returned to portions of practice Thursday, but he remains out with a neck injury.
• BOTTOM LINE: Sporting KC has spent considerable time working to finish off its scoring chances, and a date with Montreal may provide the cure. The Impact have allowed 10 goals in six matches — the worst per-game average in the Eastern Conference.
• PREDICTION: Sporting KC, 2-0