Some of you have already dubbed it “The Nagamura Game,” which is probably the best summary of the madness that took place Saturday night at Sporting Park as Sporting Kansas City twice overcame a two-goal deficit to beat the Western Conference’s top team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 4-3.
Paulo Nagamura channeled his inner (fill in with any world-class soccer player), found the back of the net twice and sent 19,969 fans home happy after cranking Sporting Park’s volume up to the max.
It was an extremely bizarre match, a tale of two different Sporting KC teams. The first 45 minutes was uninspiring as fatigue set in right from the onset. It was easily the worst half of soccer for Sporting KC this season.
Vancouver held onto a commanding 3-1 lead in the 81st minute when Dom Dwyer headed home his eighth goal of the season and and 41st of his career across all competitions, tying Kei Kamara for fifth most in club history.
From there it was all Nagamura. Filling in for the injured Roger Espinoza, Nagamura struck twice in three minutes to give Sporting KC three points on a night where all seemed to be going wrong for the home side.
“I told him with all the vacation days I gave him this year, he owed something back to me for that,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes quipped when asked about Nagamura. “Those two goals were great payback.”
Here are three thoughts from the win:
1. Sporting Park fuels another rally
On April 5, Sporting KC scored twice in stoppage time to secure a come-from-behind victory over the Philadelphia Union, 3-2. That night, Sporting Park was blanketed by a poor performance until a fraction of hope livened up the crowed and helped push Sporting KC to victory.
The same narrative was on display Saturday.
Sporting Park’s 65th-consecutive MLS sellout crowd came to life in the 53rd minute when Kevin Ellis cut into Vancouver’s 2-0 lead with a header. The jubilation was quieted in the 75th minute on Pedro Morales’ free-kick goal, but there still seemed to be some life present.
Once Dwyer made it 3-2, it was game on. You could literally see Sporting KC come to life.
“There’s no doubt that the third and fourth goals are all because of the crowd,” Vermes said. “The crowd is what pushed the guys on. They kept the faith, and the way they brought the energy, I think there’s no doubt that it spilled over into the guys on the field. The 12th man was unbelievable tonight and that’s what really got us the three points. There’s no doubt about it in my mind.”
Sporting Park was as loud as I’ve ever heard it. Vermes said the noise was on par with 2013’s MLS Cup.
2. Bad night, good night for Soni Mustivar
About Sporting KC’s apparent fatigue, Mustivar was one shining example. Mustivar had arguably his worst night since arriving in Kansas City despite assisting on two goals.
His errant touch in the early going provided Vancouver with its opening goal. Later on the Whitecaps’ second goal, Mustivar and Ellis were both caught in no-man’s land.
Without Roger Espinoza locking down one side of the field, Mustivar was forced to run sideline to sideline, which took its toll on the midfielder. Yet, he was able to go the full 90 minutes and turn his performance into a serviceable one by pressing forward up the field once Sporting KC put its foot on the gas pedal.
“He had his best, worst game ever tonight,” Vermes said. “He wasn’t good on the ball. He almost passed it to the other team so he could tackle the guy and get another recovery on another ball.
“I never doubt his heart. He puts everything into every game, so from that point of view I have the utmost respect for him. Tonight wasn’t his game in regards to playing the ball and being simple. But look, it happens sometimes. I make mistakes and sometimes they do too. As much as I want those guys to trust me, I have to trust them as well. Tonight, he at least put the work ethic in even if thought maybe he wasn’t good technically on the ball.”
Fatigue will be one issue to keep an eye on moving forward. Injuries and tired legs played a part in Sporting KC’s slow decline last season. While I don’t foresee that happening this time around — Vermes simply has a better squad — Sporting KC has a busy schedule that includes four straight road trips.
3. The Medranda left back experiment is not over, Vermes says
After surprising us all with a 90-minute effort against Toronto FC and Sebastian Giovinco, Jimmy Medranda came back to Earth against the Whitecaps.
Medranda was subbed off in the 34th minute for Amadou Dia after a less-than-stellar outing. Despite a defensive-minded approach, Medranda looked gassed dealing with speedy Vancouver midfielder Cristian Techera. The Whitecaps appeared to focus on attacking down the left side, which kept Medranda on his heels and unable to push forward to aid in the attack.
One performance is just that, though, according to Vermes.
“It was just a tactical decision,” he said. “I think he was a little tentative going forward and I needed the outside backs to be a little more aggressive going forward.”
Vermes added: “Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to make changes in games.”
Medranda is still new to the position. Spending time there in training is completely different than going up against the likes of Techera in game. Once he feels adequate enough on the defensive side of the ball, Medranda could make a difference up the field. Earlier this season, he proved his awareness has improved from last season, and if anything else, he’s another body available at multiple positions.
Tim Melia — 7
Saad Abdul-Salaam — 5
Kevin Ellis — 6
Matt Besler — 7
Jimmy Medranda — 4
Paulo Nagamura — 8
Soni Mustivar — 5
Benny Feilhaber — 7
Connor Hallisey — 6
Dom Dwyer — 7
Krisztian Nemeth — 7.5
Amadou Dia — 7
Jacob Peterson — 7.5
Chance Myers — 7
Tate Steinlage is The Star’s new soccer blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @TheFull90.