Every kid has had the dream, scoring the game-winning shot or touchdown or walk-off home run in the face of adversity. For the sake of this lead, you’d like to imagine that Jacob Peterson has had that dream once or twice this season alone, especially given Sporting Kansas City’s form over the last month and a half. Peterson entered Sunday’s game having only featured once and had struggled to make the game-day selection on several other occasions.
So again, you’d like to imagine he had the dream of reemerging — breaking through to earn his title, “The Answer,” and get Sporting KC back on track.
Well, the dream transpired, not once but twice on Sunday afternoon, as Sporting KC snapped a seven match winless skid, beating Orlando City SC 2-1. In a span of five minutes late in the second half, Peterson delivered both the game-tying assist and winner, sprinting toward the southwest corner of the stadium after the latter, displaying the expression of a man who just slayed all of his team’s demons.
As a new streak begins, let’s talk three takeaways from the win:
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Ripping the monkey off their backs
We all should’ve expected as much, right? It was always going to be Jacob Peterson who would put an (temporary) end to Sporting KC’s severe lack of creativity spanning most of April and May* in a game in which it took 31 shots to get goal No. 1.
*We’re talking seven shots on goal in the club’s last four matches.
All joking aside, Peterson’s heroics may be the gunpowder-type explosion Sporting KC has desperately needed over the last four weeks, creatively speaking. The club entered Sunday having put 41 shots on goal, including the dismal number over the last four games, but left with 13 on target, including the two decisive goals.
Likewise, redundancy had begun set in amongst us media folk, who were forced to write about such offensive ineptness and the resulting fan outrage. But on Sunday, Peterson and Sporting KC turned the corner, displaying large stretches of dynamic and diverse play on the attack that left Orlando City SC reeling for most of the afternoon.
And finally, the team had a result to show for it, which was a breath of fresh air, coupled with an exhale of relief, exhibited after the game as players and even manager Peter Vermes made their way around Children’s Mercy Park to thank the fans — and as Peterson was doused with water during an interview with ESPN.
All of which leads to the question: Is the monkey off Sporting KC’s back?
“In sports if you win you’re great, if you lose you’re terrible,” Peterson said after the game. “I don’t think that mentality has crept into the group. I think we knew that we were having some good performances — maybe not all of them — but we were creating some chances and our possession has been pretty good. We just needed to put it all together.
“There’s no doubt that a win is going to instill some more confidence in the group, but I don’t think that was lacking. I think we all understand what we need to do to be the best team we can be.”
Questions still remain, of course. One game doesn’t dictate the season, or as youth coaches like repeat to their kids: You’re never as good as your best result, and never as bad as your worst. But there were signs of encouragement on Sunday that could help get the wheels back on track for Sporting KC as the season moves into the summer grind.
“Honestly, I think we should’ve had more than two goals today, but it’s little baby steps right now,” Benny Feilhaber said. “It’s good that we got a good percentage of our shots on target, and the two goals were huge for us. But we still want to increase that percentage — we don’t want to have to take 34 shots a game to get two goals. And we will, but definitely that’s important for us to just see the ball and find the back of the net at this point.”
Flying under the radar
Breaking the club record for shots in a game, the initial takeaway on Sunday was always going to be about the attack’s effort. But lest we forget the defensive command that held Orlando City SC to a meager three shots, including zero on target.
Last season’s rookie of the year, Cyle Larin, was held to a season low five touches in the first half. Part of that had to do with the amount of quality possession Sporting KC had, but also the defensive organization starting in the midfield with Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar fulfilling their specific roles.*
*When those two are clicking, it opens the door for Feilhaber to step higher in the midfield and remain active in the attack.
The longstanding joke about Jimmy Medranda has been his shoot-first mentality, but so far this season that couldn’t be further from the truth. Medranda has been defensively sound, understanding more and more when it’s fitting to step up into the attack and when to fall back into the backline.
There’s also some truth to defense helping out the offense, and the proof is in the pudd…uhm, result. Quality possession starting in the back and in the midfield ultimately sparks defensive positioning, which keeps a team on its heels, as Orlando City SC was on Sunday, and ultimately provides an opportunity to score.
▪ Orlando City SC may have waited too long to sub out Brek Shea, who had a nasty collision with the south end video boards late in the first half. The fullback was blitzed early in the second half, giving up acres of space and opportunities for crosses, until he was subbed out in the 65th minute.
▪ Is Medranda the most creative player for Sporting KC right now? Signs point to yes. We’ve joked about his fire mix tape skills as it pertains to being on the ball, but it really has led to some spontaneous scoring opportunities that don’t happen nearly as much when sending a cross in from out wide.
▪ Teams are starting to scout Brad Davis, apparently. Twice in the first half, Davis had a 1v1 on the right side, and on both occasions, Tommy Redding overplayed the winger’s left and forced him toward the end line.