The season is just 43 days old, and thus it’s obligatory to consider that six months remain in the annual Major League Soccer grind, but in the world of early-season tests, Sporting Kansas City was offered a big one Saturday at first-place Portland.
It responded rather emphatically.
Sporting KC overwhelmed the Timbers 1-0 on the road Saturday, preserving its unbeaten record and stymieing the league’s best offense.
Through six weeks, Sporting KC stands as one of only two undefeated teams left in the league. And it looks every bit the contender it hoped to be.
“Massive points,” coach Peter Vermes said. “I think they’re the best team in the league. (And we) come in here and get the win and the shutout against a team that has been completely on fire.”
Dom Dwyer provided the lone tally on the West Coast, an early second-half header off a cross from winger Jimmy Medranda. It felt a long time coming after Sporting KC controlled the pace and possession. Goalkeeper Tim Melia made it stand with a world-class save 20 minutes later.
After Darlington Nagbe hit a screamer from distance, Melia leaped into the air and just barely grazed the ball with his fingertips. But he was just strong enough to deflect the ball off the crossbar rather than allowing it to splash the top netting.
“Once he struck it, I knew it was going to be a dangerous shot,” Melia said. “My initial read was to react right, and it kind of knuckled on me.
“I knew I was going to get my hand on it. I didn’t know if it would be strong enough to carry it to the crossbar.”
Melia and Sporting KC earned their fourth shutouts of the season.
Even with its perfect mark through March, Sporting KC featured some uncertainties, most notably in its offensive production. A statement came last weekend in a three-goal output against KC the Colorado Rapids.
The defense regained the reins in Portland.
The Timbers approached the weekend as the league’s best club in goals, shots and chances created. Sporting KC entered the week leading the league in goals allowed, shots allowed and shutouts recorded.
The defense won out. Convincingly.
Portland did not put a shot on goal in the opening 50 minutes, though it attacked ferociously thereafter. While it earned the beauty from Nagbe in the 79th minute, Melia was even better.
“He was fantastic tonight,” Vermes said.
Dwyer handled the offense. After a scoreless initial four matches, Dwyer opened his scoring account in last week’s win against Colorado. A streaky goal scorer remarked, “I needed that one.”
The wait for No. 2 was much shorter. Dwyer slashed into the penalty area, and Medranda hit him like a wide receiver cutting through the center of a defense. On a full-speed move, Dwyer used his head to re-direct the ball into the net.
Sporting KC moved into second place in the Western Conference, one point shy of Portland, but the Timbers have played one more match.
Sporting KC will face FC Dallas in a week in a matchup of the only two teams with unblemished records.
“We can’t get carried away,” Melia said. “This is a very good result in a very difficult place to play. But by no means are we getting carried away. It’s super early in the season. We’ve got some momentum going tinto Dallas, so we have to do it all over again there next weekend.”
Sporting KC 1, Portland 0
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Seth Sinovic, Ilie Sanchez, Benny Feilhaber (Soni Mustivar, 83rd), Roger Espinoza (Saad Abdul-Salaam, 90th), Gerso Fernandes, Dom Dwyer, Jimmy Medranda.
PORTLAND: Jake Gleeson, Alvas Powell, Roy Miller, Lawrence Olum, Marco Farfan (Dairon Asprilla, 85th), Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, David Guzman (Darren Mattocks, 71st), Diego Chara, Fanendo Adi.
Kansas City: Dwyer (Jimmy Medranda, Benny Feilhaber), 53rd minute.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: Ike Opara (time wasting), 25th.
Kansas City: Seth Sinovic (unsporting behavior), 52nd.
Referee: Drew Fischer.
Assistant referee: Frank Anderson.
Assistant referee: Daniel Belleau.
Fourth official: Ricardo Salazar.