Sporting Kansas City’s depth was put to the test in the opening game of the season on Sunday. With six potential starters out, including playmaking midfielder Benny Feilhaber, Peter Vermes looked to four players with a combined three years of MLS experience … on the road … at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in front of more than 40,000 fans.
The chosen 11 answered the call in a big way, as Sporting shut out Seattle Sounders FC 1-0 on a goal from first-year center back Nuno André Coelho to earn the club’s first win in Seattle since 2009.
“We’ve played here many times, and we’ve been snake-bitten quite a few times,” Vermes said. “They’ve always found a way to get a goal late against us. But in this situation I thought we were very well organized tonight and really well disciplined in the game. I think that was a big help in why we got the result.”
Here are three thoughts on the match:
1. Seattle’s leg up showed at the onset
Early on, the Sounders certainly looked like the team that had two competitive matches under its belts. Jordan Morris was active on the left side of the field, where Seattle directed its attack.
As a result, Graham Zusi and Jordi Quintilla dropped deep in the midfield to assist in the defensive efforts and limit space on Seattle’s quick counters.
But Sporting weathered the storm, with Coelho, Soni Mustivar and Tim Melia to thank, and then settled into a nice spell of possession for 10 minutes midway through the half.
Mustivar organized the visitors’ best look of the half (and arguably the match), stepping high up the field to intercept a pass before sliding a ball over to Dom Dwyer.
The striker pulled two defenders toward him and then slid a terrific through ball to Connor Hallisey, who wasn’t able to sneak his shot between the legs of Stefan Frei.
2. Fisher’s red card changed the match
Oniel Fisher was a force through the first 40 minutes of the match. He then forgot how to defend:
Well, @SoundersFC, glad you asked. It was the correct call on a poor and needless challenge. It also was unfortunate for the Sounders, because the 24-year-old right back was Seattle’s most influential player in the first half, using his pace to push up the field and also deflect the oncoming attack.
His absence changed the course of the game for both teams. Seattle backed off its plan to target Fisher’s side of the field, which allowed both Sporting KC fullbacks to join in on the attack.
The Sounders’ distribution was mostly even at halftime, but by the end of the game there were noticeable holes in the final third. It also affected Morris, who made 14 passes in the first half in linking up with Fisher, but had just six in the final 45 minutes.
3. Coelho’s strong debut bodes well for the future
Coelho’s goal will make headlines, which is fair since it’s not every day that a centerback scores from 30 yards out to win the game. But that only tells part of the story.
Coelho was terrific alongside Matt Besler. He has the benefit of being a physical defender capable of wrecking forwards and one with enough finesse to take part in the attack, evident by his goal and distribution map (which nearly overlapped Jordi Quintilla’s).
In season’s past, Sporting KC has struggled to fend off Seattle late in games, but Coehlo stepped up on several occasions, including a headed clearance in the 86th minute following two Sounders corners.
“His movement in-between and up the field was good,” Vermes said. “Nuno has a really good quality in going forward with the ball. He sees and reads the game well and has a very good shot from distance.”
With Opara’s return still an ongoing process, one that probably will continue throughout the regular season, Coelho is going to be the guy alongside Besler. If he’s able to do what he did today in both phases of the game, Sporting KC will be better off – and Melia a much happier guy.
▪ In case you forgot, Tim Melia is still a boss: