HOW IT PLAYED OUT
As the reports surfaced about Dom Dwyer's inevitable departure earlier this week, supporters and critics alike united in pondering the same question: where will the goals come from now?
Peter Vermes didn't waste time with an answer.
"We have quite a few guys who can step in for Dom."
And neither did Sporting Kansas City on Saturday against the Chicago Fire.
With goals from Daniel Salloi, Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing, along with help from freshly-appointed striker Diego Rubio, Sporting KC tallied three goals in one night for the fifth time this season, extending its home unbeaten streak to 20 games. It was enough to squeak by the Fire 3-2 on a night where its back line looked less than stellar after several weeks apart.
"It was some of the best we've had," Vermes said of his side's attack. "I was telling somebody before, I thought that between Diego and Daniel that it's almost like they've played together for 10 years — the relationship and combination play."
Blessing's goal in the 51st minute was the difference maker, but much of the legwork came from Rubio, who collected the initial ball in the final third and then floated into space to deliver a shot that Blessing would redirect inside the far post.
With the win and a surprise FC Dallas result (4-0 loss), Sporting KC will finish the weekend on top of the Western Conference with 36 points from 22 games.
Salloi opened the scoring on Saturday with a coast-to-coast run that included a necessary strong first touch and deflection to send the keeper the wrong way. Feilhaber sent the crowd into a frenzy moments before halftime with a bicycle finish right in front of goal after Chicago pulled even on a Matt Besler own goal.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ike Opara gave Fire manager Velijko Paunovic one heck of a display on Saturday. Paunovic, who will coach the MLS All-Stars against Real Madrid and did not select Opara to the team, sat back and witnessed Opara essentially shutdown his lethal scorer in Nemanja Nikolic. Nikolic entered having scored 16 goals on the season, two better than New York City FC's David Villa, but was practically non-existent against Sporting KC.
That's impressive on it's own, but what makes it even more is that Opara was returning from a nasty concussion that kept him sidelined for nearly a month. It didn't look like he missed a beat, however, recording four clearances and nine (!) recoveries.
On a night where the rest of the back line wasn't quite up to its usual standard, Opara was locked in. His only hiccup came in the second half when he opted not to extend his foot on Chicago's second goal in fear of drawing a penalty.
Regardless, in many ways it was a clinic on how to play the center back position at this level.
"Today we had so many chances to score because of the movement we made in the front," Rubio said. "I'm not going to say it's impossible (to keep this up), because if you have 10 chances you can score 4 or 5 goals ... I said before, if we score more goals than the other team, then we're going to win always (laughs)."
GIF OF THE MATCH
Home against Atlanta United FC next Sunday at 7 p.m.