If there are any MLS fans who can rival Sporting Kansas City’s Cauldron, it might be the Timbers Army, so the shoe will be on the other foot in a sense tonight as coach Peter Vermes’ squad aims for an eighth straight to start the season at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland.
Of course, Sporting KC isn’t worried about the allegedly rowdy Timbers’ supporters.
“To be honest, not much changes,” forward Teal Bunbury said. “We just have to be a little more concentrated and have a little more focus. We can’t get complacent. We know it’s going to be rowdy, but we just have to stay composed and not get caught up in the emotions or get too reckless.”
Sporting KC, 7-0-0, which leads MLS with 21 points this season, knows how much of an impact an intimidating venue can be for opponents.
“It will be a challenge for us based on the way they play at home and feed off the energy of the fans,” Vermes said.
That challenge is heightened by Sporting KC’s 2,000-mile journey to the Pacific Northwest for games at Vancouver and Portland, which wrap up a stretch of three games in eight days.
But being conditioned by games at Livestrong Sporting Park erases any worries about being nervous in the face of a hostile crowd, which will be considerably more raucous than the previous road crowds at D.C. United, Chivas USA and during Wednesday’s 3-1 win against the Whitecaps.
“It gives us some extra energy as well,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “Our atmosphere at Livestrong is just as raucous, so we’re not going to let emotions get the better of us and it won’t be a shock to the system at all.”
Far from being intimidated by the Timbers Army, Sporting KC hopes to draw extra adrenaline for the third match in eight days from the environment as Vermes’ club tries to match the best start in MLS regular-season history.
“That’s amazing,” Danish-born goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said, referring to Jeld-Wen Field and its crowd. “It’s like Livestrong. It’s an amazing atmosphere. But those are the places you want to play. It’s an amazing atmosphere to play in and the kind of place you dream of playing in, so it’s more exciting or fun than intimidating.”
Technically, the Los Angeles Galaxy started the inaugural season in 1996 with 12 straight wins, but the ninth victory came in a shootout. That means eight straight wins in regulation to start a season is as good as it’s ever been in 17 seasons.
In some respects, if Sporting KC can’t be at home as it tries reach 8-0, there’s no place it would rather be than Portland, where the Timbers are off to a sluggish 1-4-1 start.
“It’s about a passion for the game, so it’s exciting as players to go into an environment like that and send the home fans away with a loss,” Bunbury said. “It can give you a little more of an edge. The chance to silence a big crowd like that provides a little more motivation.”