Sporting KC

A playoff charge? Sporting KC grabs second straight win, inches closer to race

After growing up in an orphanage, Gerso Fernandes has found a home with Sporting KC

Born in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Sporting KC's Gerso Fernandes was raised in two different orphanages in Portugal, before finding his way into professional soccer in Kansas City.
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Born in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Sporting KC's Gerso Fernandes was raised in two different orphanages in Portugal, before finding his way into professional soccer in Kansas City.

The Sporting Kansas City locker room cleared out quickly 10 days ago, and a muted hush encompassed the remaining players sitting inside. No music. No conversation. Hardly any movement. The setting fit a collection of players trying to grasp the abnormality of their last-place standing.

But since? Some signs of life. Some signals of a return to normalcy.

They’re getting close.

Sporting KC put together back-to-back victories for the first time this season, grabbing a 3-0 result on the road against Vancouver behind goals from Gerso Fernandes and Felipe Gutierrez.

“I’ve said (that) it doesn’t matter how good I think they are — they have to think themselves that they’re good,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the match. “And they are. And they’re starting to get back to that place, which is great.”

And they’re creeping toward a better location in the Western Conference. Ten days after sitting in last place, a distant view of the playoff picture, Sporting KC (6-7-7) has crept within four points of FC Dallas, the current residents of the final playoff spot.

That’s six points in eight days after a home victory against Chicago last weekend, arriving via the former staple of the Vermes tenure. Score early. Lock it down late.

The soon-to-be father took care of the first part. Fernandes facilitated the opening goal in the 24th minute, flicking a ball toward the net, which Vancouver midfielder Ali Adnan deflected backward. It technically was credited as an own goal.

Appropriately, Fernandes bypassed his bat-swing celebration in favor of one mimicking rocking a baby. Fernandes is scheduled to become a first-time father on Sunday, his wife, Emmy, due to deliver a baby boy they plan to name Gerso Jr.

Fernandes was originally credited with the goal — and Felipe Gutierrez with an assist — before the official ruling modified it to an own goal. Didn’t matter. He found the scoreline with an insurance tally in the 90th minute. It stands as his sixth of the season but first in MLS play.

“I thought he was what he has been all season long,” Vermes said. “The fact he hasn’t been talked about more in the league ...”

Between the two Fernandes sequences, Gutierrez doubled the lead in the 56th minute, unleashing from 20 yards out for his team-leading eighth goal of the season, a shot that seemed to fool Vancouver keeper Zac MacMath.

Those were the scoreboard-altering plays.

The underlying theme? The continuation of a return to the aforementioned staple. Inside a subpar defensive season, Sporting has finally settled on a productive back-line combination. For the fifth time this season, Graham Zusi, Botond Barath, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic occupied those four spots. They have four shutouts in the five games. Tim Melia did some heavy lifting this time, securing six saves.

“Excellent performance from front to back and start to finish,” Vermes said, adding, “They were massive points for us. Another step up the ladder.”

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