The season has progressed with exceeding frustration. With increasingly quiet postgame locker rooms. With players literally shrugging their shoulders in wonderment of solutions.
But for one night on its home field, Sporting KC found one.
A return to the roots, of sorts.
Sporting KC produced its first home clean sheet in four months, good for a 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire at Children’s Mercy Park late Saturday.
Yohan Croizet scored the lone goal in the 14th minute. All they needed.
“What we did tonight is what this team has been built on for years,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “Put a goal in the net and close up shop. We finally did it tonight.”
Yes, finally a reprieve. From a standings descent. From the aggravation.
It wasn’t all fixed Saturday — Sporting KC wasted a bevy of scoring opportunities to offer themselves some late-game breathing room. But it was good enough.
The clean sheet didn’t arrive by happenstance, either. Sporting allowed Chicago only two shots on goal, neither of them laborious for goalkeeper Tim Melia. The back line of Graham Zusi, Botond Barath, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic supplied cohesion lacking for months, sparking the team’s third win since March 30. That’s a stretch of 15 matches.
“We didn’t give them any clear-cut opportunities. We shut down a good attacking team,” Melia said. “As of right now, I’d rather have more wins and shutouts to get in a position to get back in the playoffs, but all in all, just happy right now.”
Even after the victory, its fourth at home in 10 outings but the first in six weeks, Sporting (5-7-7) remains four points south of the seven-team playoff line.
But it’s a start.
Well, in the standings it’s a start. On the field, the players insist the makings of a shutout came long ago, on the training grounds at Pinnacle. The fruit just finally materialized Saturday. After the game, Vermes opened his presser with a statement crediting his team’s effort, even as the results haven’t come with it.
“The secret for what we’re doing is work,” midfielder Felipe Gutierrez. “That’s it. Work hard.”
“You can’t control what happened in games in the past, so you just have to put your head down, keep your mouth shut and work harder to get yourself out of this,” Melia said. “It’s a simple as that.”
Croizet opened the scoring in the 14th minute, aided by the Chicago keeper Kenneth Kronholm’s hesitation. The pause was brief but costly. After Besler stole a pass in the defensive third, Gutierrez quickly squeezed a ball through a narrow opening in the Chicago defense. Croizet beat Kronholm to the ball after Kronholm was indecisive about whether to depart his post. He ultimately did, but it was too late. The ball flicked off his leg and into the net from 25 yards out.
The goal gave Sporting KC its first halftime advantage in nearly seven weeks. It should’ve grown afterward. And grown. And grown. The chances were plentiful — openings falling to Daniel Salloi, Gutierrez, Croizet and Nemeth, who subbed in during the second half — but the conversion issue remained.
Yet for one night, just 72 hours after it consumed the post-game press conference, it was an afterthought.
The forefront? A long-awaited victory.
“Today, we missed many chances. Maybe today could be like 5-0, and everyone would be saying, ‘Wow, Sporting is back again,’” Gutierrez said. “But we are quiet. We just wanna keep working and see what happens.”