Sporting KC Handling Pressure Collectively


Mar 12, 2014; Kansas City, KS, USA; Cruz Azul midfielder Marco Fabian (8) goes past Sporting KC forward Claudio Bieler (16) in the second half at Sporting Park. Kansas City won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Mariano Pavone had a goal. There was no question about this.

In the 55th minute of the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Cruz Azul’s Pavone received a pass on a well-timed run between two defenders at midfield. He dribbled his way past Sporting KC’s defense, angled towards the right wing and then put a move on keeper Eric Kronberg. The net was wide open and Pavone’s touch strike suggested the match was about to be tied. It was merely a formality.

But then a curious thing happened: the ball did not go in the net.

Ike Opara never gave up on the play. Burned by the well-timed run, Opara gave chase as Pavone made his run towards goal. When Opara saw Kronberg attacking Pavone, Opara immediately broke off his chase and went straight for the goal line, getting there just in time to deflect the shot wide of the net.

"“For him to cover and get to the goal line and not give up on the play, clearly it was tremendous heart,” Peter Vermes said in his postgame press conference. “It shows the character of the group.”"

And that character is a toughness few clubs in North American soccer can match.

If Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Cruz Azul in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals was any indication, Sporting KC’s plan is to throw the outside pressure on them back at their opponent.

Sporting KC attacked for 90 minutes on offense and defense, never allowing a moment for Cruz Azul to catch their breath. They did this despite having played their first game of the season just three days prior in Seattle. There was an intensity that seemed unnatural for a team who should be trying to find their legs, not daring their opponents to break them.

And the mind game seemed to get to Cruz Azul. Six yellow cards were distributed – three to each team – and 38 total fouls were called. And those were the things the referees called. This was clearly something “The Machine” was not built to withstand. The pressure got to them.

"“We talked about how it is going to take every roll of the ball for us, to be focus and concentrated for 90 minutes,” Vermes said."

And they were focused. It was the concentration and fitness of Opara that got him to Pavone’s strike in the 55th minute, and it is the reason why Sporting has such a great chance of advancing to the semifinals.

"“It is always interesting to me how everyone always comments that it is physical play,” Vermes said. “What I really think the difference is is we don’t provide a lot of space for people. And because of that they are under pressure. And when you’re in close, I mean, it’s a man’s game – there’s going to be some contact here and there. But at the end of the day, I think the pressure is something that helped us throughout the game and never let them settle in.”"

At the end of the day it is going to be Sporting’s pressure that is going to give them the best shot at making a run in the Champions League and repeating as MLS Cup champions. This is a bold way to attack what is expected to be a long season.

But if Opara’s play in the 55th minute is any indication, Sporting is ready handle the pressure.


“It’s great because he scored for our team, right?” – Peter Vermes on Kevin Ellis’ first career goal


Sporting added Antonio Rodriguez Dovale to their roster earlier in the week and he is already with the team practicing. SB Nation’s Sporting blog The Blue Testament caught up with him for an interview Wednesday.

Here’s a quick sample. It is worth the read.

"Q: Was the reason for leaving Celta Vigo to get more playing time?Toni: Obviously, that is what every player wants. I have been an important player in Celta Vigo until a couple months ago and that I why I decide to change my team. I was playing for Celta Vigo for seven seasons, five as a professional player and I think it is a good moment to make a change. Fortunately Sporting Kansas City show a big interest in me and I feel so happy, it is amazing for me to be here.What every player wants is to play as many games as possible, that is our world, our passion, our profession and that is what we want."


Why is Marlon Wayans at training? No clue, but he was there this week.


Newly minted captain Matt Besler was named the Kansas City Marriott Sportsman of the Year by the Kansas City Sports Commission. Besler, an MLS All-Star starter and US Men’s National Team member, led Sporting to their first MLS Cup championship since 2000.


Sporting opens their home MLS slate tonight against FC Dallas at 7:30 p.m. Dallas won their MLS opener in come-from-behind fashion, 3-2, against the Montreal Impact. The game will be aired on 38 The Spot in Kansas City.

On Wednesday Sporting will travel to Mexico for the return leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Cruz Azul. Sporting leads 1-0 on aggregate. The game will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 2.