The inclusion of two MLS expansion teams this season — both of which reside along the east coast — triggered a move to the Western Conference for Sporting Kansas City.
Two months later, the club hasn’t forgotten its productive formula against its former rivals.
Sporting KC remained unbeaten against the East with a 1-1 draw against Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United on Saturday in Washington.
D.C. United’s Jairo Arrieta and Sporting KC’s Dom Dwyer traded first-half goals.
“I thought we were very good all game long, tactically,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the match. “I think it was very difficult for them to try to break us down. And I thought we were good at finding opportunities on the counter.”
Sporting KC moved to 3-0-2 against the East this season.
The club completed the match without midfielder Graham Zusi, who departed in the 90th minute with lingering effects from a head collision earlier in the second half. Vermes was unable to provide an update on Zusi immediately after the match.
Homegrown defender Erik-Palmer Brown earned his first start of the season — an appearance that came only one day after he completed his last final exam at O’Hara High School. Palmer-Brown, 18, will leave the club next week to join the United States Under-20 men’s national team for the U-20 World Cup, which may required a six-week stay.
“It’s a learning experience,” Palmer-Brown told reporters after the match. “It’s just going to take some time, so getting these little minutes here and there is all great experience for me.”
Sporting KC, 3-2-5, implemented an effective — albeit unexpected — strategy Saturday at RFK Stadium. It elected to sit back and allow D.C. United to force the action — a ploy that seemed to catch the United by surprise.
As a result, Sporting KC owned the bulk of the run of play, especially over the first half. But its inability to put away chances allowed the United to strike first nonetheless.
In true D.C. United form, the tally came on the counter. Arrieta flicked a shot off of a sliding Matt Besler and past a diving Tim Melia in the 42nd minute — the first blemish this season against Melia, who was making his second start with Sporting KC.
The reply from Dwyer came only 3 minutes later.
A week after he bungled a point-blank header against Chicago, Dwyer made the most of his best opportunity Saturday, firing home a pass from Roger Espinoza. Dwyer’s third goal of the season supplied Espinoza with his second assist.
“The good thing was we responded very quickly to the goal that they scored, and we were right back in the game right away,” Vermes said. “... I thought it was a great goal. He timed it really well.”
It was a break-through moment for Sporting KC, too.
D.C. United shut out Sporting KC in all three meetings between the two clubs in 2014, and it extended Sporting KC’s scoreless streak in the matchup to 397 minutes before Dwyer’s shot bolted past goalkeeper Bill Hamid.