KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Sporting Kansas City is off to its best start in four years, largely due to the play of the hottest goalkeeper in MLS.
A visit from the league’s lowest-scoring team since the start of last season should only continue each trend.
In a rematch of its inaugural game exactly 20 years ago, Sporting will try to improve on its MLS-best record when the Colorado Rapids visit Wednesday night.
The two teams matched up on April 13, 1996, for the first of 64 meetings in this series. Sporting has dominated it at home with a 22-5-5 record there, though the Rapids snapped a 15-game run without a win in Kansas City with a 2-0 victory Oct. 21.
Colorado (2-2-1) closed last season with two straight wins over Sporting (4-1-0), though the latter is enjoying its best start since opening 7-0 in 2012.
It has been fueled by keeper Tim Melia, who has allowed just three goals while matching Chicago’s Matt Lampson with a league-high three shutouts. Melia will face a Rapids attack that has scored just 36 times in 39 games since the start of last season, seven fewer than the next lowest team, Real Salt Lake.
Melia made six saves, including one on a penalty shot, in Saturday’s 2-0 win at the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls pushed up their attack for 22 shots instead of playing defensive as most teams do against Kansas City.
“We needed to get into a game where the opportunity was to defend and then counter someone,” coach Peter Vermes told the team’s official website. “A lot of teams that we play, they wind up sitting back on us. It’s sort of like a puzzle wrapped up in a conundrum, and we’re trying to figure out how to break it.”
Either way, having a goaltender on a roll like Melia helps. The 2015 Comeback Player of the Year leads the league with four wins while saving 87.5 percent of the shots he’s faced for a 0.60 goals-against average.
On Saturday, he became the first goaltender in Sporting history to record at least six saves, one penalty kick save and a shutout victory in the same match.
“It’s almost not surprising to us anymore because he does it so much,” midfielder Graham Zusi told the team’s official website. “He’s just a monster back there.”
Dom Dwyer tallied his second game-winning assist Saturday before scoring in the 60th minute. He is one of five MLS players with at least three goals and two assists.
Colorado keeper Zac MacMath has also surrendered just three goals, but the Rapids have buried only three on the offensive end. They failed to score on 14 shots, six on goal, in Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, falling to 0-2-1 on the road.
“It’s tough to lose a game when you have quality opportunities that you got in this game,” coach Pablo Mastroeni told the team’s official website. “You have more than enough.”