In anticipation of the 100th straight sellout inside Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler extended sufficient praise for the people he deemed responsible, but he quickly turned his attention toward the stadium’s competitive advantage.
In a clogged Western Conference, he explained, home records during the stretch run could be the deciding factor in whether Sporting KC brings Children’s Mercy Park its first playoff match in four seasons.
The club turned toward that track Saturday.
Sporting KC outlasted FC Dallas 2-0, using a first-half goal from newly-minted starting striker Diego Rubio and a beauty of a clincher from winger Gerso Fernandes.
The stadium welcomed a crowd of 19,869 fans after the team honored a handful of them for attending all 100 matches during the sellout streak.
“You could feel that little extra tonight,” goalkeeper Tim Melia said. “It comes at a really important time. The conference is heating up— everything is super tight. It’s a really important game trying to keep those guys behind us.”
After entering the day in a three-way tie atop the West with Houston and Seattle, which were scheduled to play later in the weekend, Sporting KC took care of its only controllable piece in a race that has tightened over the last month.
That tightening is in part to its own doing. While Sporting KC extended its franchise-record home unbeaten streak to 22 matches Saturday, it had earned only one-point draws in four of its previous five home matches, three times allowing late game-tying goals during that span.
On Saturday, Rubio provided the early lead in the 42nd minute. But the back half of the formula — a second-half equalizer — never arrived. Instead, Fernandes provided the final touch with a shot into the upper corner in extra time, his team-leading seventh goal in the MLS season.
The rest fell to defending. Sporting KC held FC Dallas to just one shot on frame in the second half. Melia made two saves total for his league-leading 10th shutout of the season.
The team was in such full control in the second half that midfielder Benny Feilhaber turned to Besler and remarked, “Let’s win this game 1-0.”
“How about 2-0?” Besler replied.
After the game, Feilhaber concluded, “He was right, but I thought we had done everything we needed to get the job done with one goal. We were playing well and not giving away opportunities.”
There wasn’t much in the way of offense for either side, but the two goals required quality finishes.
Rubio scored his third goal over the last four matches across all competitions. Graham Zusi served a corner kick into the box, and Rubio peeled away from his defender to blast it home. The ball never touched the ground from the moment it left Zusi’s foot to the second it splashed the upper netting.
Rubio, presented the starting striker spot after the trade of Dom Dwyer last month, nearly had another goal just three minutes later, also off the service of a Zusi corner kick.
A return to the defensive-minded game ensued before Fernandes broke it. Fernandes opened the game on the bench but made his impact as a sub. Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes talked of the need to offer him a chance to “hit a little reset button.”
Fernandes scored for the first time since June 10. His celebration was one of relief.
“I was needing something like that,” he said. “I feel alive again.”
Sporting Kansas City 2, FC Dallas 0
FC DALLAS: Jesse Gonzalez; Hernán Grana, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Hedges, Maynor Figueroa; Michael Barrios (Coy Craft, 79th minute), Kellyn Acosta, Carlos Gruezo, Roland Lamah (Ryan Hollingshead, 75th); Cristian Colmán (Tesho Akindele, 65th), Maximiliano Urruti.
SPORTING KC: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Jimmy Medranda; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Benny Feilhaber (Latif Blessing, 90+3); Cristian Lobato (Gerso Fernandes, 68th), Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi (Erik Palmer-Brown, 83rd).
FC Dallas: none
Sporting KC: Rubio (Zusi), 42nd minute; Fernandes (Zusi), 90th+2.
Shots on goal
FC Dallas: Figueroa (unsporting behavior), 80th.
Sporting KC: Sanchez (unsporting behavior), 48th.
Referee: Armando Villarreal
Assistant referee: Peter Manikowski
Assistant referee: Andrew Bigelow
Fourth official: Mark Kadlecik