Livestrong Sporting Park is supposed to be Sporting Kansas City’s fortress, but it was hard to tell based on the last performance — a 2-0 loss to the expansion Montreal Impact.
Perhaps more than facing the Western Conference leaders, restoring a distinct home-field advantage might be the most crucial thing for Sporting KC at 3:30 p.m. today against a depleted San Jose side.
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The Earthquakes, 8-2-3, sit atop the MLS table with 27 points, but aren’t nearly as formidable offensively without forwards Chris Wondolowski, who is away on U.S. men’s national team duty, and Steven Lenhart, who was suspended for accumulation of yellow cards.
“San Jose is a good team, and they’ve gotten off to a great start,” assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said. “They’ll be coming in here hungry for points. For us to re-establish our dominance at home will be important in an important game, which the next one always is.”
After setting the league afire with a seven-game win streak to start the season, Sporting KC, 7-3-1, hit a lull and lost its next three.
Even last week’s 2-2 road draw against the Colorado Rapids lost some luster, because Sporting KC failed to defend an early two-goal lead.
“Obviously, it was another unfortunate result, but we still got a point out of it,” forward C.J. Sapong said. “We realize we’re doing well to get up on teams, but we’re not closing out, which historically has been an issue with us. We’re working hard every day to fix that.”
Sporting KC currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with 22 points, but manager Peter Vermes’ squad has two games in hand over the New York Red Bulls and three on D.C. United, who are the only teams above them at the moment.
In fact, no other team with 11 games played has more than 18 points on the season, which means Sporting KC remains the favorites in some ways to repeat as Eastern Conference regular-season champions.
“If you look at it from strictly a record standpoint, before the season started if somebody said you could be 7-3-1, you would have taken that any day of the week,” Zavagnin said.
No doubt, though, Sporting KC doesn’t want to stick in the late-spring doldrums any longer, so a win against San Jose would go a long way toward reenergizing the fans if not recharging the players’ batteries.
“As we continue throughout the course of the season, there will be some highs and lows, but this group has certainly maintained its concentration,” Zavagnin said. “We’re looking forward to getting back on the winning track this week.”
The ‘Quakes are 4-1-1 away from home, so it’s unlikely John Doyle’s squad will be a meek and intimidated opponent.
But San Jose has conceded two goals in three of the last four road battles, so the defense might be a bit leaky.
Perhaps Kei Kamara, who scored a team-leading four goals over the first seven games, can end a four-game drought and help Sporting KC get back on track in the process.
Then again, maybe fellow forward Teal Bunbury’s two goals — his first of the season — against the Rapids are a sign he’s ready to carry the scoring the load into the next month.
“Getting that first goal really was a relief,” Bunbury said. “Last year, overall I ended up with 12 (goals), so my goal is to get more than that.”
It won’t be easy, but Sporting KC’s attacking confidence remains high.
“(The Earthquakes) are very sharp in the back with two strong center backs who are experienced and know what they are doing there,” Bunbury said. “We’re going to have to be patient and not try to force things. We can’t just be one-minded and try to kick the ball over the top. We’re going to have to knock the ball around, dissect them and try to get behind them.”