The early March winds come off the Delaware River and bring a slight chill into the Philadelphia Union Stadium. Sporting KC players walk onto the pitch ready to start the game, ready to start the season. It’s Game 1 of the 2013 MLS season. Anticipation built all winter long to start a new season and redeem the failed playoff campaign of the year before.
Overall, predictions for Sporting foretold another run to the playoffs. The team looked remarkably similar to last year’s squad. There was no need to make major overhauls to this team. It was a solid core of young players, including the best defense in all of the MLS.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen signed an extension to his contract to play at least one more year for Sporting. And why wouldn’t he? He stood behind the greatest defensive back line in America. Center backs Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin kept potential attackers away from Sporting’s goalposts. They also pushed forward to help in the relentless attack that manager Peter Vermes employed.
But 17 minutes into the game against the Union, the KC defense made a mistake. A turnover in Sporting territory found the defenders too far forward and unprepared for a deep crossing pass. Philadelphia scored. 1-0.
But when your team possesses the Graham Zusi, you can rest a little easier.
In the 40th minute, a mad scramble broke out in front of Philadelphia’s goal. Zusi stayed focused and sent a rebounding ball back towards the net, past the out of position keeper. It was an equalizer that said Sporting still remained determined even at the start of a new season. The game became a 3-1 win for Sporting KC.
It has been a good time for soccer in Kansas City since that first game. The Kansas City soccer team played as projected: solid defense, high-paced attack, and one of the best teams in the East. Not only does Kansas City sit on the verge of the Supporter’s Shield, but the city itself experienced an outbreak of soccer fever. During July, Sporting Park hosted the MLS All-Star Game. People who attended claimed the atmosphere was phenomenal, more than what they expected. Kansas City is growing into a soccer hub. It’s a place where the MLS and its fans want to be.
The game against Philadelphia marked the beginning of the 2013 season, and this coming Saturday night, Philadelphia will also complete the season. Both teams are looking for a win as they both have something to earn. For Sporting, it’s a chance at the Supporter’s Shield, the award for the best record in the MLS, and the Union will fight for one of the remaining Eastern Conference playoff spots.
Claudio Bieler, Sporting’s leading goalscorer, will attempt to create a lead early in the game. An early goal would allow the players to settle back into a defensive position where they can prevent any Philadelphia goals. The Union consists of opportunistic attackers that do a decent good job of exploiting defensive mistakes. A win could possibly put Sporting ahead of the New York Red Bulls for the Supporter’s Shield and the Eastern Conference title, which would be Kansas City’s third consecutive title.