Sporting not taking clash at Columbus lightly

Kansas City aim to shore up early-season defensive frailties

C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi and Teal Bunbury

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Preseason prognosticators pegged Sporting Kansas City as one of the trendy choices for a breakout season. KC, though, don’t exactly see it that way. The season may have started a bit inconsistently, but the club has loftier aims than to simply be considered a potential contender.

“Everybody is looking at us like, ‘Oh, you guys might be a surprise team,’” forward Kei Kamara said. “We don’t want to be a surprise. We played good soccer last year, and we want to come in and compete against the top-four, top-five teams in the league.”

In order to accomplish that goal, Sporting (1-1-1) know they will have to take care of business against conference opponents as well as teams with comparable aspirations. The next opportunity to do that comes Saturday evening, when the club takes on the Columbus Crew (7:30 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live) at Crew Stadium.

But as the players and coaching staff would readily admit, Kansas City haven’t exactly been perfect this season, and Columbus appear to be the kind of side that could take advantage of those imperfections.

While Sporting lead the league in goals per game, the Crew haven’t allowed an opponent to score in their past three contests. Robert Warzycha’s team is also traditionally dangerous from dead-ball situations, and that’s an area Sporting targeted for improvement after giving up two goals from corner kicks against Chivas USA.

All in all, manager Sporting KC Peter Vermes said he simply expects a battle between two teams desperate to stay on form and keep up with the conference pace-setters early in the season.

“They're a team that we cannot in any way, shape or form take lightly,” Vermes said.

But that doesn’t mean Kansas City will necessarily be preoccupied with what Columbus bring to the table. At this point in the season, Vermes is placing the focus firmly on what his side is doing and how his players can continue to progress as the year goes on.

Sporting seemed to learn a valuable lesson their last time out after allowing the Vancouver Whitecaps to salvage a 3-3 draw in KC's most recent league match. A few days after that disappointing result, Kansas City traveled to Houston and shut out the Dynamo in a US Open Cup qualifier, scoring a timely goal in extra time before holding onto the victory.

It was a far cry from the explosive contests that Vermes’ side had been involved in during its first three matches, and showed that the defensive frailties observers had harped on weren’t incurable.

“We have to stay on that same track of constantly evolving from our last game and figuring out how we’re going to be better in our next one,” Vermes said. “We have to stay with our theme. If we can go and put pressure on teams in their places, we’re going to get chances. We just have to finish them.”