The road trip had dragged on more than 24 hours behind schedule last week when a group of Sporting Kansas City players woke up early to catch another flight booked for Columbus. It was their third attempt to travel to Crew Stadium for a midweek match.
It made for a miserable road swing for Sporting KC last week. The team spent the better part of two days in various airports. But the club’s ensuing victory against the Columbus Crew illuminated an ongoing trend, forward C.J. Sapong said.
“That was something I think a lot of teams in this league would use as an excuse,” Sapong said. “We embraced it. We looked at it as a challenge, and we like challenges. That’s who we are.”
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The latest road victory also served as the latest example in a progression nearly three years in the making. The club continues to enjoy consistent results outside of Sporting Park — no matter the circumstances.
The success has reached historic levels this season. Sporting Kansas City will take the franchise’s first ever four-game road winning streak into Toronto on Saturday. The teams will meet at 6 p.m. at BMO Field, where Sporting KC will look to bolster its league-best road record (6-4-0).
Sporting KC owns more victories away from home than any team in Major League Soccer this year.
“I feel like we’ve set a standard in this league,” said Sapong, who scored the first goal in the team’s 2-1 victory at Columbus. “Teams know what they’re going to get when they play us. The fact that we stay true to our identity and we still have success on the road speaks volumes about what we do here. It’s definitely something I think other teams are trying to measure up to. We’re the measuring stick for the league.”
And Sporting has been for awhile now.
The club put together the only road winning record in the league last season, when it went 8-5-4 outside of Sporting Park. A year earlier, it posted the best away record in the Eastern Conference and finished atop the standings as a result.
It’s not as easy as it looks.
Major League Soccer teams combined for a 163-77-81 home record last season, giving the league a more distinct home-field advantage than baseball, the NHL and the NBA.
Sporting KC is rebuffing the norm.
“We make it very difficult for teams to play against us. We do the same thing here at home, but I think sometimes we get a little anxious (at home),” coach Peter Vermes said. “... I think we’re very focused and very disciplined on the road. I think it’s very hard to play against us. And we find good opportunities, and we wind up capitalizing on those.”
Even by its standards, Sporting KC is set to face a challenging endeavor Saturday, given that Toronto FC has lost only one of its past six matches at BMO Field.
Nevertheless, that won’t lead to many adjustments from Sporting KC, says Vermes, who prefers to employ a similar strategy in home and away matches. That plan has certainly demonstrated its worth.
The irony, of course, is that the road triumphs lead to a season-long objective of playing more home matches in the postseason.
“At the end of the day, what matters the most is we continue to get results and be at the top of the table, so come at the end of the season, we put ourselves in a good position,” Vermes said. “If all goes our way, we can get back and have home-field advantage all the way through the playoffs. And hopefully we get to the final and we have it here again.”
Sporting Kansas City at Toronto FC
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Saturday at BMO Field in Toronto
TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); WHB (810 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC (10-5-5): With its six-match unbeaten streak, Sporting KC has vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference, where it holds a one-point lead over second-place D.C. United. Sporting KC club has won four consecutive road matches. ... Midfielder Paulo Nagamura will miss Saturday's match with a lingering left ankle injury.
ABOUT TORONTO FC (7-5-5): The club has lost only once over its past 10 matches and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, despite playing two fewer games that any other team in the conference. ... Toronto FC will be without Jermain Defoe, who is serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
BOTTOM LINE: Peter Vermes has lost only one match to Toronto FC in his tenure as the Sporting KC coach. The teams tied 2-2 in a May 23 meeting at Sporting Park.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 1, Toronto FC 1