Looking back at Sporting Kansas City’s 2012 season, one loss in particular stands out.
Sporting KC got thumped 4-0 by Philadelphia Union on June 23 in the second game of a bicoastal road trip. It was the only game last season in which Sporting KC’s league-best defense, which conceded just 27 goals, coughed up more than two goals.
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It also happened to come three days after Sporting KC played in Seattle — more than 2,800 miles away.
Former Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza, who now plays for Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League, had no doubt there was a connection, saying last summer that travel-weary legs factored heavily into the team’s poor showing against the Union.
Sporting KC, 3-1-2, hopes it learned something from that trip as it embarks on another bicoastal swing beginning with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff tonight at New York, followed by a night game Saturday at the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“I think the group is more mature now,” Sporting KC assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said. “We’d like to think, going into this trip, that we’re more prepared. … We feel like we’ve gotten over the hump in learning how to prepare for these bicoastal trips.”
Still, there’s little doubt the 2,791-mile trek from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., presents a challenge.
That is especially true given the caliber of opponents Sporting KC will face — a talent-laden Red Bulls side still searching for its identity under first-year coach Mike Petke and the two-time reigning MLS Cup champion Galaxy.
“It’s not like we’re going to play two teams that are feeding in the bottom of the league,” Zavagnin said.
That said, Sporting KC does have some things working in its favor.
First, the club will gain three hours going from east to west rather than losing three hours heading west to east, which will allow for additional rest.
Second, this trip comes two months earlier in the season, when Sporting KC is fresher.
Finally, coach Peter Vermes’ squad is coming off a bye week — whereas last season’s lengthy journey came on the heels of a home game the previous Saturday.
“It’s still a challenge,” Zavagnin said. “We faced this last year with a West-to-East Coast trip — Seattle over to Philadelphia. We used a roster rotation within that trip, which I think is essential. However, coming off of a bye week, we may have the legs and the firepower to get it done.”
Coming off a 2-0 win against the Montreal Impact and a 1-0 victory April 5 against D.C. United, Sporting KC is in excellent form — another factor that might weigh in the club’s favor.
Perhaps a successful two-game road trip will serve as the springboard to a third straight Eastern Conference regular-season crown.
“If we get a lot of points from this trip, it will be easier for us later and have a big impact mentally,” said defender Aurelien Collin.
The first hurdle is a Red Bulls team coming off its first road win of the season Saturday at D.C. United.
“They’re a team that’s loaded with talent — no different than any previous years,” Zavagnin said. “With a new coach coming in bringing in a new philosophy and new style, I think they’re a team that can erupt at any moment.”
Led by international superstar Thierry Henry, who got his second goal of the season in a 2-0 win at D.C. United, New York has plenty of attacking bite.
Former Real Salt Lake stars Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola have combined for five goals, and the roster also includes midfielder Juninho, a newcomer from Brazil.
Not that Sporting KC is worried.
“We’re not scared of anybody,” Collin said.