After starting on the wrong foot, Sporting Kansas City has regained its composure in the first month of the 2018 MLS season.
Following a 2-0 home opener loss to New York City FC to begin its season on March 4, Sporting has turned around their season already, winning three of its last four matches since the NYCFC loss.
Now tied atop the Western Conference with 10 points through five games, the team with the league’s leading defense last season has made some noticeable changes. Allowing nearly 2 goals per game, Sporting has adjusted its mindset to a score-first mentality, resulting in a lead for the MLS in goals scored.
Last season, Sporting KC reached the multi-digit goal feat in its ninth game, going scoreless in three of its first four matches. Already this season, Sporting has been on a three-game streak of two goals or more, a feat it has not achieved since September 2016.
Much of the attacking dominance has to be credited to Kansas City's loaded newcomers, including forward Johnny Russell and midfielder Felipe Gutierrez, with the latter leading the league with five goals already this season.
Although Sporting is atop their conference, there still remains 29 games between them and an eighth consecutive playoff appearance, leaving feasible room for much needed improvement.
The first improvement is in regards to the veteran attacking play. Last season’s team leading scorers, forwards Gerso Fernandes and Diego Rubio, have been quiet through all five games, combining for only one goal after scoring a total of 14 combined last season.
Although spectacular play by Gutierrez has given an excuse for the rest of the team, the entire attacking lineup needs to get back to 2017 form in order to extend its limits for the season.
Yet, the most important necessary modification to Sporting is unexpected: their defense. Despite including the likes of 2017’s Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia and Defender of the Year Ike Opara, as well as the national team’s Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, Sporting has managed to allow nine goals already, seven games sooner than last season.
Last season only 29 goals were allowed, the third best in MLS history since expanding to 34 games. Sporting’s strong suit has turned into it's Achilles' heel.
Although Sporting's record has helped erase the fact, the team allowed at least two goals through their first four games, a streak last experienced by the club in 2015.
Although these mistakes seem alarming, the good news is that Sporting Kansas City is still above the rest of the conference amidst their fixable mishaps. Its defense may not be playing well, and the offense hasn't quite found its footing, yet Sporting Kansas City is first place in the Western Conference, and that is threatening for the rest of the league.
— Edited by Hannah Strader