On Wednesday night, the Lions fought to a 2-1 victory against Western Conference heavyweights Sporting Kansas City, leaving Children’s Mercy Park with three points in the bag.
The win extended City’s current unbeaten run to seven-consecutive matches, breaking the previous Club record set at the beginning of the 2018 season. After falling at Inter Miami in their Phase 1 opener, the team has boasted a 5-0-2 record in their last seven matches, including three straight wins.
While there has been much discussion about the identity of the Club in terms of maintaining possession and controlling the pace of the game, each of these results have come in different ways.
On Saturday against Chicago, the Lions rattled off a season-high 19 shots to put four goals into the back of the net and earn a 4-1 victory in a rather back and forth match, not typically indicative of a three-goal win.
At the midweek, quite the opposite took place, with Kansas City taking twice as many shots as the visitors with 16, but the Lions being the more clinical side in the match with two of their three shots on target finding the back of the net.
The results aren’t just coming in different ways however, they’re also coming with a heavy amount of rotation. A total of 19 different players have occupied a starting role for Head Coach Oscar Pareja throughout this unbeaten run, including five changes to his starting XI in Kansas City from the Lions’ last match against Chicago.
“I am very happy because this is helping us to maintain a very tough rhythm from playing on Wednesday and Saturday, they have been able to keep this level even when we don’t have the ball,” Pareja said of his group. “The player rotation has been great, I believe that Tesho [Akindele], Daryl [Dike], Chris [Mueller], Mauricio [Pereyra], Luis [Nani], they all understand that this is a collective effort, a team game. This makes me happy because the soul of this group is strong and this makes me proud.”
The collective effort has stemmed from both sides of the pitch, with the defense having yet to allow multiple goals in a single match despite rotating seven players throughout the backline. On the offensive end, the team has netted 16 goals from seven different members of the squad, putting the goal differential throughout this stretch at +9.
What the model behind the success has shown us is the sustainability within it, a marquee pillar of the culture and the ideology that Pareja has worked to ingrain into the group since his arrival - that anyone is equipped to step onto the field and do their job at any given moment.
“We want to keep going and qualify the team for the playoffs. Secondly, we know that it’s a long road and that we started well but we also have to end it well,” Pareja said. “Tonight we didn’t focus on anything besides getting the three points. We knew that we could do it and we have our objective of qualifying the team. We are very happy because we are playing with personality. It’s hard, but we are improving a lot.”
The job certainly is not done yet, but a spot in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is becoming ever more clear with each result the team adds to its resume. While some across the league have yet to buy in on this Lions’ side, the players themselves are well aware of the quality they possess along with the opportunities in front of them and plan to ride that momentum through the remainder of the regular season and beyond.
“We have very high confidence within the team. In the locker room we feel like we can beat every team in the league and we are ready to do it. We need to keep our momentum going and keep pushing forward and training hard to get even better than we are and that’s what we do every week in and out,” defender Robin Jansson said.
“We’re working hard, we’re very happy, but we’re not getting relaxed. We need to get even more three points and we’re going to have hard games like this again and we still need to continue to grow together as a team.”