Sporting Kansas City fondly remembers its last trip to Washington, D.C., and would love a repeat performance in tonight’s season opener.
Matt Besler’s left-footed 54th-minute blast provided the winning margin as Sporting KC wrapped up the regular-season Eastern Conference title with a 1-0 win against D.C. United last October, a loss that helped ensure coach Ben Olsen’s bunch wouldn’t reach the playoffs.
“If I know Ben, I’m sure he’ll bring it up to them,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “But from our perspective, whatever happened last year is over with.”
Sporting KC knows it can’t rely anymore on last season’s magic, which saw the team rise from a 1-6-3 start to play for a spot in the MLS Cup final, but the club hopes to begin conjuring up an equally fantastic run today at RFK Stadium, where Sporting KC is 5-12-4 all-time.
A year ago, the franchise was staring down a 10-game road stretch to open the season while awaiting Livestrong Sporting Park’s debut in June. Sporting KC again starts the season on the road, but there is a much more settled feeling around the organization now.
“We can hit the ground running a little bit more this year,” Besler said. “For me, it’s my fourth year and I’ve never started a season that well. It would be nice for this team, five or six games in, to be one of the teams at the top. We want to battle for those top spots the whole season.”
Claiming a First Kick win or even a draw would be a brilliant start for Sporting KC, but nothing comes easy in MLS on the road.
“Any time a team just misses the playoffs, they always seem to come out with a little extra fire in their step the following season,” said midfielder Graham Zusi, who has been nursing a quad strain in training but expects to play today. “D.C. is a team that will be tough. We know that. They added a few guys and solidified their back line. They are also a team with a lot to prove this year, which makes them extremely dangerous.”
Of course, no championships will be awarded after the game, so Sporting KC is careful not to overemphasize the importance of nabbing a victory.
“The one thing I have always learned in this game is that you don’t win or lose everything that first game of the season,” Vermes said.
“It’s all about performance, how you’re playing, really and where the team can go from there.”
Still, make no mistake, the season opener is special — if only because it signals the end of preseason and the start of meaningful play.
“You’ve been through a very long preseason and a lot of training and friendlies, so now you want the real thing and to see where you stand in a real game against real competition,” said goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen, who is set to start his 17th professional season.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Bobby Convey, who was drafted by D.C. United as a 16-year-old and spent five seasons with the club.
He remains close with several former teammates from those years, including Olsen and former MLS MVP Marco Etcheverry.
“My time there was great,” Convey said. “It’s where I started, but I was so young it was almost like my club team. Of course, I am still going there to beat them. I came (to Kansas City) to win the MLS Cup.”
The quest officially starts at 6:30 p.m.