Sporting Kansas City continues to find success on the road. A month removed from a season-opening road shutout over Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting KC followed suit with a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer provided goals, as the visitors improved to 4-1-0 on the season and jumped into first place in the Western Conference.
Here are three thoughts on the win:
Coelho, Ellis find their stride
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After a rocky effort last weekend against Real Salt Lake, the Nuno Coelho-Kevin Ellis pairing settled into a nice groove during the first half of Saturday’s match against the Red Bulls.
The biggest improvement was the duo’s defensive shape, which was disjointed far too often against Real Salt Lake. With Sporting KC’s system predicated on its fullbacks participating in the attack, it’s imperative that both centerbacks hold the line even keel. That was not the case in the 2-1 loss.
Coelho and Ellis were especially good off of turnovers on Saturday. Real Salt Lake used turnovers to jumpstart their counters last weekend, knowing one or both centerbacks would be out of position. But against New York, Coelho and Ellis kept the line even across the field. Below is an example of this:
New York managed 15 shots in the first half, albeit only three were put on target. Bradley Wright-Phillips was especially dangerous in the box on two or three occasions. It, however, was not a result of poor centerback play, but rather Lawrence Olum shifting too high up the field, leaving acres of space between the backline and midfield*.
*Olum was much improved in the second half defensively.
Unfortunately, Ellis was forced off the field right before halftime due to a groin-related injury. Ike Opara made his first appearance since April 11, 2015 and did quite well. Coelho, too, deserves credit for his efforts working alongside his third partner in five games.
All in all, Sporting KC was much more poised handling pressure on Saturday.
Dwyer’s hold-up play flying under the radar early this season
Dom Dwyer wants to score goals. This, of course, is no secret. But far too often over the course of his Sporting KC career he has gone invisible for large stretches of a game, shadowed by centerbacks twice his size near the box.
No doubt aware of this by now, Dwyer has developed his hold-up play this season, and it’s leading to chances. In the opener against Seattle, Dwyer settled back into space and delivered an excellent through ball to Connor Hallisey. On Saturday, Dwyer did the same, maneuvering through two defenders before finding Graham Zusi out in front. Zusi then rolled a ball across the face of goal, and Feilhaber provided the one-time finish past Luis Robles.
With Sporting KC still searching for a viable second scoring option, Dwyer can expect to be the focal point of defenses. If he’s able to hold the ball and open up space for his teammates, his value on this team will only skyrocket, and more goals elsewhere will come.
Tim Melia really is the G.O.A.T: A timeline
▪ Peter Vermes provided the early frontrunner for MLS GIF of the Year on Saturday: