Ten years ago Sunday, in dire need of a fresh start, Sporting Kansas City turned it all over to Peter Vermes. After a decade in control as the team’s coach — featuring championships, playoff streaks but some first-round flameouts, too — Vermes believes he is in the midst of his most difficult challenge to date.
But perhaps it became just a tad easier Sunday.
Sporting KC pulled out a 3-2 victory at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, its most difficult result in a most difficult season. The Sounders have lost just twice at home this year, and didn’t fall Sunday without providing Sporting some particularly nervy moments in the final minutes.
Felipe Gutierrez scored a pair, and Erik Hurtado added his first in a Sporting uniform, the standouts in a deserving result sparked by a distinguishable all-out work rate.
“I believe we understand what we’re going to have to put into these games to get points,” Vermes said in a phone interview after the game. “The guys put the effort in.”
Gutierrez scored twice in the first half, and Sporting KC withstood two from Jordan Morris in the second half — each of them trimming a two-goal deficit to one. Sandwiched between the two, Hurtado supplied an impressive individual effort in his first start of the season.
“He had a monster game for us,” Vermes said. “He was a big reason why were as physical and dominant as we were in the game.”
Coming back from a pair of injuries, Hurtado’s goal stood as the game-winner.
Seattle midfielder Handwalla Bwana clanked a shot from distance off the woodwork in the 90th minute, and Morris had another opportunity just two minutes later.
But the final upshot: Sporting KC moved within five points of the playoff line. Eleven games remain on the MLS schedule.
A day before Sporting hopped aboard a plane destined for Seattle, Vermes sidestepped the range of injuries to rock the 2019 season and pointed elsewhere to define the shortcomings. Inconsistent mentality. Inconsistent work ethic.
They were ever-so-present Sunday, particularly the effort throughout the initial half. In fact, Sporting pounced for its second goal when Gerso Fernandes out-ran the Seattle back line and drew a foul in the box. Gutierrez buried the penalty kick straight down the middle, 21 minutes after he opened the scoring. Fernandes has drawn three penalties this season, tied for the second most in Major League Soccer this season, trailing only LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The opener required a touch from five Sporting KC players before Gutierrez pinpointed the far corner from a tough angle in the 12th minute. With the two goals, Gutierrez expanded his team lead in the scoring column. He has 10.
Morris countered with his own brace, scoring in the 46th and 82nd minute. Each tally cut the margin to one goal. But Seattle couldn’t get closer, despite some prime chances in the closing minutes. Sporting keeper Tim Melia made three saves, one to prevent a Morris hat trick before the whistle.
“We gave up two, but what we didn’t do is we didn’t put our heads in the sand — we kept playing,” Vermes said.
Hurtado answered the first goal. He flicked a ball beyond Kim Kee-hee at midfield, deked and out-ran him to it, then slid a shot to the far post, a sequence of deft touch and speech Sporting has sought at the No. 9 position.
Hurtado made his first start atop the formation this season, sidelined much of the summer by knee and wrist injuries.
“He fought for everything,” Vermes said. “He was really good.”