Sporting KC makes a statement in their season opening win against Philadelphia Union.
A season opener is a chance for excuses. Sporting Kansas City appeared as if they would need a series of excuses to explain their performance after the first forty minutes of play. It is tough to win on the road. Sebastien Le Toux and the crowd could not be contained on his homecoming. Defenses--even good ones--have cobwebs.
It was in the 41st minute then that an esoteric combination of players came together for Sporting KC. You could not choose four players with differing personal experiences with this team. Bobby Convey: the injury-prone afterthought, Claudio Bieler: the exotic unknown, Benny Feilhaber: the experienced newcomer, Graham Zusi: the face of the team. Four players that could be excused for not being on the same page in the opening half of the opening game of the season.
Failure was an option, but they opted to draft an opening statement on a new chapter in Sporting Kansas City history: a beautiful cross by Convey, a deftly headed ball by Bieler to a wide open Fielhaber, who then blasted a shot at MacMath that bounced off at a predatory Graham Zusi to tie the game at 1-1.
Much of the credit goes to Peter Vermes. Finding that the 4-3-3 was not operating well, he switched to a 4-2-3-1 allowing more distribution in the final third of the field. Vermes had stated in the past that the final five minutes of the first half are critical. That goal provided a lift before halftime that the team needed while Philadelphia would have to scrap their anticipated halftime plans.
In the second half, Sporting KC was a team ready with statements and not excuses. Statement: we will beat you on set pieces. Zusi's free kick assist to Uri Rosell in the 61st minute was first-rate, and the young Catalan headed in the shot to put Sporting KC up 2-1. Statement: Zusi and Bieler are good. The final goal was scored by Claudio Bieler with an assist by Graham Zusi. We will likely be seeing that sentence many, many times this season. The inswinging pass by Zusi was floated to Chance Myers, who set up Bieler with an across-the-body shot attempt that went past the outstretched hands of Philadelphia's keeper Zac MacMath. Peter Vermes may have found another brilliant player in Claudio Bieler. The Argentine could satisfy many KC fan's year-long hunger for a center forward that can turn opportunities into goals.
In the end, this was not an excusable performance for Sporting KC. It was a statement performance. Statement: this team is ready to play.