Sporting out to silence doubters against West opposition
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City might be the least-respected unbeaten team of the young MLS season, to hear them tell it.
Never mind that they're No. 2 in the MLSsoccer.com Power Rankings, or are generally considered among the Supporters' Shield favorites.
The fact is, Sporting are 2-0-0 so far, but both their wins have come against Eastern Conference clubs that failed to make the playoffs in 2011 – D.C. United and the New England Revolution. Their next six games, however, come against Western Conference opponents, the first one on Sunday against FC Dallas at Livestrong Sporting Park (7 pm ET; Galavision).
With the West widely expected to be better than the East this season, it may be a chance to silence the queries of “who have they played?”
“I think it’s more of a media thing with the West vs. the East, to be honest,” defender Matt Besler said after Friday’s training session. “Everyone says the West is better, but for us, we’re looking forward to the challenge. A couple of the games are going to be on the road, on the West Coast, and we’ll see what we can do.”
After Sunday, Sporting travel to play Chivas USA on April 1, return home for matches against the LA Galaxy on April 7 and Real Salt Lake on April 14, then go back on the road to face Vancouver on April 18 and Portland on April 21.
“You play those guys once, so you want to pick up the points as much as possible,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “If you take a look at the standings, the West seems to be doing better right now. As the season goes on, you’ll see that even up a bit, but yeah, it’s a good test.”
Few in Kansas City, though, are buying into the “West is Best” conventional wisdom.
“I beg to differ with what most people think,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. “I think there’s so much parity in the league -- West, East, it doesn’t matter. They’re all MLS teams, and every game going in is always a difficult proposition. Anybody can put anybody out on the field and have a good game that day. That’s why you’ve got to be prepared to play everyone. I don’t measure it any more than I would if we were playing an east coast team. “
Then again, the West does have the reigning MLS Cup and Supporters Shield holder in the Galaxy, the three-time defending US Open Cup champion in Seattle, and one of MLS’ entries into the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League in Real Salt Lake.
“It’s still early in the season to determine what side is the stronger side, but the West has been strong for the last couple of years and everyone puts them in that position,” Sporting forward Kei Kamara said. “But we’re positioning ourselves as one of the dominant sides in the East, and all we can do is compete with the best. So having all these games against Western Conference teams, it’s just like any other team.
“If we keep playing like we’re playing, it doesn’t matter who we’re going against,” Kamara continued. “Whatever people are going to say, that’s fine with us. When the whistle blows, we’re there to play. We’re there to prove that we’re one of the best teams in this league.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.