It’s a mystery why Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers struggle to find the back of the net in the Rose City. Both teams boast strong attacking pieces that have the ability to breakout at any moment.
Unless it’s against each other, apparently.
Nonetheless, Sporting KC snapped a three-match losing streak with Wednesday’s scoreless draw. It wasn’t a win, but a result in the Rose City is no small feat.
Here are three takeaways from the match:
1. Draw puts major emphasis on Sunday in Orlando
Forget about the return of Dom Dwyer to his “spiritual home.” Sunday’s meeting against Orlando City SC is easily Sporting KC’s biggest game to date. After dropping the first two games of their four-game road trip, Peter Vermes’ side bounced back Wednesday to earn a draw in one of the league’s most intimidating venues.
However, for a team with Supporters Shield aspirations, one or two points from four games will not cut it. And with just three points separating third and seventh place in the MLS Western Conference, Sporting KC has little wiggle room – games in hand or not.
That being said, Sunday is essentially a must-win game if Sporting KC wants to remain in the thick of the Supporters Shield race and have momentum heading into backstretch of the season, including the U.S. Open Cup Final on Sept. 30.
2. Sporting KC is starting to get healthy
Soni Mustivar returned to the starting lineup Wednesday, and to no surprise, made an instant impact by helping lift the attack while also securing the backline’s shape. Bernardo Anor – yes, Bernardo Anor! – made his first appearance since April, albeit only a 15-minute feature. And finally, Jalil Anibaba logged his first minutes since June 21.
In this league, teams don’t want to peak too soon, nor do they want to be stifled by injuries late in the season. Sporting KC certainly has room to improve and settle into form before the playoffs kickoff. With the return of a few key pieces, Vermes and company have reason to believe there won’t be any drop-off, a la last season.
The remaining piece Sporting KC needs back on the field is Roger Espinoza. His numbers haven’t wowed this season, but that’s the product of a much smarter player than the one who left for Wigan Athletic in 2013. His presence, like Mustivar, determines much of Sporting KC’s success in the attack and defense.
Of course, there’s the wildcard in Ike Opara, who believes he will return before season’s end, but let’s be honest, Vermes doesn’t seem like the type of coach to rely on a player coming off a second serious injury in as many years, who missed most of the season in the process. If completely healthy, Opara’s return will be positive for Sporting KC, but how he’s utilized won’t be the same as it was back in March.
Still, Sporting KC is getting healthy at the right time.
3. Tim Melia should be the frontrunner for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year
What else can you say about Tim Melia?
This time last year he was a no name in Kansas City who bounced around the league as a pool goalkeeper. Now, he’s putting together one of the best seasons in club history in goal – all for just a little more than $80,000 against the team’s cap.
Here’s just a sample of what he did against Portland on Wednesday night:
Just how good was Melia’s night?