The cornerstone of the offseason plan was the addition of depth. Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes called it a warranted response to late-season slumps engineered by injuries.
Absent three starters on MLS’ opening day, Sporting KC didn’t waste time testing its strategy of the winter months.
So far, so good.
Sporting KC opened the season Sunday with a 1-0 victory in Seattle, using a long-distance strike from central defender Nuno André Coelho in his MLS debut.
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“Anytime you’re able to get a shutout and get three points on the road, it’s a huge victory,” Vermes said in a phone interview after the match. “We’ve played here many times, and we’ve been snake-bitten quite a few times. I thought we were very well-organized and very disciplined in the game.”
Coelho, a veteran of European leagues, was brought in this offseason to provide depth in the center of the defense. Instead, he supplied the offense. He scooted a low roller under the arms of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who appeared to misjudge the bounce of the shot in the 73rd minute.
That stood as the only score, giving Sporting KC a victory that was also aided by a one-man advantage. Seattle defender Oniel Fisher was ejected 3 minutes before halftime for a two-footed studs-up challenge on Connor Hallisey.
“It was kind of fortunate it happened right before halftime. I had a chance to talk to the guys a little bit,” Vermes said of the ejection. “We were patient. We moved the ball. We waited for that one breakdown.”
And then Coelho made it count.
As a result, Sporting KC won in Seattle for the first time since 2009. The latest meeting — between two clubs whose seasons ended in penalty kicks in last year’s postseason — featured a highly-anticipated MLS debut for Seattle forward Jordan Morris, who had a good look toward goal in the opening minutes but skied the shot.
The Seattle shots that reached target weren’t effective, either. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, the club’s breakout player last season, recorded a shutout in his first MLS opening-day start.
Sporting KC played without midfielder Benny Feilhaber, offseason trade acquisition Brad Davis and defenders Seth Sinovic and Ike Opara, all of whom sat because of injuries that Vermes called minor. That shoved second-year fullback Amadou Dia, midfielder Soni Mustivar and Hallisey into the starting lineup. With Opara out, Coelho started alongside Matt Besler in the center of the defense.
The duo held up.
Melia helped the cause.
He got a finger on Clint Dempsey’s free kick in the 15th minute, then made a sprawling save on midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz’s shot shortly after halftime, deflecting it off the crossbar. Seattle clicked the bar twice in the match. But the Sounders failed to find the net.
Vermes said Sporting KC set three objectives before the match — score in the run of play, score on a set piece and produce a shutout.
Two out of three were good enough.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY 1
SOUNDERS FC 0
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Amadou Dia, Nuno Coelho, Matt Besler, Chance Myers, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Soni Mustivar, Jordi Quintilla, Connor Hallisey (Jimmy Medranda, 82nd), Dom Dwyer.
SEATTLE: Stefan Frei, Chad Marshall, Joevin Jones, Brad Evans (Dylan Remick, 90th), Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan, Oniel Fisher, Clint Dempsey, Nelson Valdez (Zach Scott, 70th), Jordan Morris (Oalex Anderson, 83rd), Andreas Ivanschitz.
Kansas City: 1, Nuno Coelho 1 (Quintilla), 73rd minute. Seattle: None.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: Zusi, yellow (unsporting behavior), 76th; Espinoza, yellow (unsporting behavior), 77th.
Seattle: Fisher, red (serious foul), 41st.
Referee: Alan Kelly.
Assistant Referees: Ian Anderson.
Assistant Referees: Apolinar Mariscal.
4th Official: Drew Fischer.