Sporting KC have always lacked a true, natural goalscorer. But now they have one in Diego Rubio. His very presence elevates this team to a new, wonderfully dangerous level.
It’s the match of the weekend. It might, in fact, be the match of the season. On Saturday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City venture north to face the hottest team in MLS, the Seattle Sounders, in a top-of-the-table tilt in the Western Conference.
The Sounders are famously coming off a run of seven successive wins. They are currently tied with the MLS record. The team that they are tied with? Yep, you guessed it. Sporting Kansas City.
This match has historic, title and playoff implications. KC can be top of the West if they win their game in hand, while Seattle have steamed into the playoff positions with this brilliant winning streak and could still chase down their visitors with the right results down the stretch.
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It is a good thing for Peter Vermes’ team, then, that they are now a very different prospect to what they were earlier in the year — or what they have been for many years. They may still be built on the same disciplined, well-drilled defensive principles that Vermes lives and dies by, but they have a greater attacking threat than in previous seasons.
This greater offensive potency comes, primarily, from the emergence of an oft-criticised, easily overlooked, much-dismissed striker, who, for many, was resigned to never fulfilling the resources that Sporting KC ploughed into his services two years ago. Yes, after being initially signed as a Designated Player, it is only now that Diego Rubio is providing a return on that investment.
Injuries and competition have an equal part to play in Rubio’s struggles in the midwest. It is not necessarily his own fault that he has not scored the goals expected of him. But now, he is finally producing as was hoped all along.
Rubio is currently the most efficient goalscorer in MLS. A goal every 75 minutes is an extremely impressive rate. Admittedly, this figure is inflated slightly by the fact that Rubio has scored goals from off the bench, but in his last five matches, four of which are starts, he has scored four goals and assisted another two.
A natural nous for scoring goals is a rare quality. It is why strikers are paid the most money, demand the highest transfer fees, are the most valued of commodities in the game. The hardest job on the pitch is putting the ball in the back of the net, as Sporting KC have experienced in the past.
But now, in Rubio, they have a player with the capabilities of scoring goals. Scrappy ones, beautiful ones, converting crosses, running into the channels, headers and rebounds, long-range strikes and six-yard tap-ins. Rubio is a goalscorer and he elevates Sporting KC to a new level, a level that the Seattle Sounders are about to test themselves against.
For Rubio, it is these big games that he flourishes in — his two goals were integral to KC’s dismantling of playoff rivals of the Portland Timbers. He will hoping to flourish once more, much to the dismay of Seattle.