On Wednesday evening, as Sporting Kansas City celebrated the 20th anniversary of its inaugural match, its home park welcomed a 74th consecutive MLS sellout.
In an ESPN survey, the consistently-packed venue was voted by MLS players as the second-most intimidating atmosphere.
But as Sporting KC approached the 2016 season, it focused on earning results outside of Children’s Mercy Park.
So far, so good.
As Sporting KC travels to face FC Dallas at 6 p.m. Sunday, it will take a 2-0-0 road mark into the match. It has yet to allow a goal in its two road victories.
“That’s one of the things we talked about at the beginning of the season,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “Going on the road is always an opportunity to get back points that you’ve lost at home. The easiest way to do that is to not give up goals, to get clean sheets.”
The chance to get points on the road takes on an added importance this month, after Sporting KC uncharacteristically dropped back-to-back home matches. But finding results away was always going to be a part of the equation. And for three years, nobody in MLS was better.
Sporting KC won 24 road matches from 2012-14, the best number in the league. It won eight each of the three seasons.
That number dipped to just four in 2015. A key reason: goals allowed. Sporting KC gave up 25 goals in 17 road matches last year.
“Every time we go on the road, the priority is to get a shutout,” goalkeeper Tim Melia said after the team’s previous road win, a 2-0 victory against the New York Red Bulls last weekend.
“Our defense has been really focused in our two road matches (this) year.”
Melia did the heavy lifting in the win in New York, making six saves, including a penalty-kick stop, against a club that pressed a lot of numbers forward. And that’s been another key difference in Sporting Kansas City’s road matches.
Teams have attempted to “drive the game” inside their home stadiums — as opposed to the past two Sporting KC home matches, when Real Salt Lake and Colorado escaped Children’s Mercy Park with victories after effectively slowing the pace of the match.
“Obviously on the road, you’re not the team that has to come out and make the game. You expect the other team to come out and play, and the game should be more wide open, because we’re not a team that just sits back and defends for our lives,” Feilhaber said. “I would rather play in a game where both teams are going for it as opposed to one team sitting back.
“But I think playing in front of our fans in that stadium is such an advantage that it’s a little give and take.”