How it Played Out
Game one of the 2017 season lacked fireworks, but the scoreless draw did encourage — this is a more dynamic, athletic and entertaining Sporting KC side than what was fielded in 2016. Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez each started and played 90 minutes, as the midfield and forwards looked more in tune than the March 4 date might suggest. Tim Melia made three crucial saves on the evening, two coming in the 17th minute from a D.C. United penalty kick, and a third that followed a pair of clearances off the line from Jimmy Medranda and Dom Dwyer. Peter Vermes elected not to go to his bench as Sporting KC largely kept United on their heels throughout the evening.
The Turning Point
Melia will be disappointed with the initial sequence, but not how it concluded. The third-year goalkeeper needlessly went foot-first into Julian Buescher in the 16th minute despite having already closed down his shooting angle. Melia made up for it a minute later, however, diving to his right to stop Marcelo Sarvas's penalty attempt before charging off his line to deny Patrick Mullins on the rebound. It not only preserved the clean sheet and the end result, but kept Sporting KC on the front foot in the attack, where it held a 60-40 possession advantage.
Man of the Match
Melia made the critical plays when it mattered, but Gerso showed glimpses of what's possible when the club deploys an active and creative winger. Not only did his speed unclog the middle of the field for much of the first half, providing open running lanes for Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber, but he also showed impressive strength in his hold-up play. At one point in the first half, Gerso collected the ball in the midfield, poked the ball through a defender's legs and raced up field before trying a through ball to Dwyer. It was a moment of improv that's been lacking from the wings since Krisztian Nemeth in 2015. While the final third left a little to be desired, Gerso looks the part of both a nice fit and free-flowing playmaker. Sporting KC will need both in 2017.
“It was very simple. I said to the guys on the bench, ‘I don’t see a need to change when all of our guys are playing well and are getting their rests at the right time to recover and get right back in,’” Vermes said when asked about his sub (or non-sub, in this case) strategy. “Just because you have three subs doesn’t mean you have to use them, I just felt that the 11 guys who were out there had a rhythm, and I didn’t want to disrupt that.”
GIF of the Match
Home opener against FC Dallas on March 11