Felipe Gutierrez - Sporting Kansas City - SKC - Celebrating with arms open – Courtesy of MLS website
Washington - March 31: D.C. United will have to contain the league's hottest -- and perhaps most surprising -- new player in Felipe Gutierrez if they hope to pull off yet another successful visit to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
D.C. is one of the few teams to enjoy relatively sustained success against Sporting, going unbeaten against KC in their last six matchups (3-0-3). However, those matches have rarely featured a player on a run like Gutierrez is enjoying.
After signing with Sporting last month, the Chilean international midfielder has scored four goals to take the early lead in the MLS golden boot race.
It's a run that's as unexpected as it is impressive. The 27-year-old hasn't scored more than four goals in a league season since leaving his native Chile for the Dutch first division in 2012.
Kansas City coach Peter Vermes insists he's not all that surprised with the 2014 World Cup veteran.
"We knew that he had the ability to score goals," he said. "I think what's been good is the way he complements other aspects of our team."
Kansas City is off to a 2-1-1 start with some wild matches sprinkled in, scoring nine goals and also conceding nine so far.
Meanwhile, D.C. makes its fourth stop during a stretch of 12 of 14 on the road to begin the season. The club will open Audi Field in mid-July.
D.C. is winless (0-2-2) despite offensive contributions from two of its own offseason signings, Yamil Asad and Darren Mattocks.
Asad scored his second goal of the season in last weekend's 3-1 loss to Columbus Crew SC and also helped create both of Mattocks' goals on the season.
But D.C. has also conceded nine times and -- unlike Kansas City -- has not been able to find a way to overcome poor defending.
"I thought we had some good spells with the ball in Ohio," said defender Steven Birnbaum. "So the key now is to put that together and complete a full game, so that's what we're working on this week."