Is this the week Sporting KC protects its home turf? St. Louis is here Saturday

Eight games into the 2024 Major League Soccer season, Sporting Kansas City has already played its fair share of home matches.

Saturday’s game against St. Louis City SC will be Sporting KC’s sixth of the year at Children’s Mercy Park.

“I call it a war when they come here,” Sporting KC forward Willy Agada said.

Children’s Mercy Park had long been a fortress for Sporting, but the team has just five points through five home games — including last weekend’s one-off against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. In fact, KC’s only losses of the young season have come on home turf.

It’s not for a lack of goals on Sporting KC’s part. Manager Peter Vermes’ club has scored 14 goals, including 10 in the past four matches.

More concerning is the fact that Sporting KC has coughed up leads in four of those five home affairs. Not to mention the 11 goals Kansas City has conceded at home.

“The goals are gonna be scored in games, just like we’re scoring on other teams,” Vermes said. “It’s the moments that we’re giving up goals and in the way (we’re giving them up).”

Indeed, those tide-turning moments are coming late in games. Of the 11 goals Sporting’s conceded in those five home matches, and only two have come in the first half. And of the nine second-half goals conceded, six have come after the 70th minute — and all but Messi’s goal Saturday were scored within the final half-hour of matches.

This is a trend that Sporting KC must buck, but Vermes doesn’t think his team needs to bunker in to close out games better.

“I think you still have to play (when holding a lead or favorable result),” Vermes said. “But you also have to make high-percentage decisions that are in your favor.”

Take, for example, Miami’s winning goal last weekend. At first glance, it appeared KC’s Jake Davis mishandled a pass from goalkeeper Tim Melia. That led to Luis Suarez, one of his generation’s best goal-scorers, being open in front of an empty goal.

The way Vermes sees it, however, Sporting KC shouldn’t have been in such a vulnerable situation to start with. He said he wished Melia had just kicked the ball long instead of trying to play out of the back in that moment. He hopes his squad will make better late-match decisions Saturday.

“I think it comes down to that: finishing the game out, but making decisions based on the result,” Vermes said. “And if we’re doing that, then I think you don’t really question yourself anymore.”

The outlook as St. Louis City arrives Saturday isn’t all gloomy, of course. On the bright side, Sporting KC has scored first in six of eight matches.

“It’s not just a game,” Agada said. “It’s something that you have to give back. This is when you show the fans that we are always here for you.”

New rules begin across MLS this week

A number of MLS rules changes were ratified this offseason. But due to the referees’ lockout, the league put a hold on their implementation.

Now that the officials’ situation is settled, the league plans to begin rolling out the new rules. Here’s what you might see:

  • VAR decisions: They will be announced inside the stadium by the head referee. This change will see replay rulings communicated similarly to the way the NFL does it. MLS is one of the first soccer leagues in the world to implement this rule.

  • Timed substitution rule: Any player substituted must exit the field at the nearest point of entry within 10 seconds. If he fails to do so, the oncoming player must wait a minimum of 60 seconds before entering the game at the next stoppage in play. Exceptions will be made for injury and goalkeeper substitutions.

  • Off-field treatment rule: This one is designed to minimize the amount of time players spend rolling around on the ground, feigning injury to waste time. If an injured player stays on the ground for longer than 15 seconds, the referee will bring on the team’s medical staff. When the player can safely be removed from the field, he must stay off the field for two minutes before returning. Exceptions include head injuries, goalkeeper injuries, serious medical events and fouls resulting in yellow or red cards.

Sporting KC learns U.S. Open Cup foe

U.S. Soccer has conducted the draw for the Round of 32 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

The draw sends Sporting KC north to face Union Omaha of the USL League One, the equivalent of the third division in U.S. Soccer.

It’s a rematch of the 2022 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal, won 6-0 by Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park. The last time Sporting KC played on the road against a lower-division team was the 2022 semifinals (Sacramento Republic won on penalty kicks).