It’s no secret that Sporting Kansas City has been looking for a consistent goal scorer at striker for more than a year.
Perhaps it has had him on the roster this whole time.
Diego Rubio scored twice in Sporting KC’s win over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night. His brace came on the heels of an assist on the road against LAFC last week and a late game-winner in Houston two weeks ago.
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes thought Rubio’s performance against LAFC was his best yet, as the striker’s form continued Saturday night against the Timbers.
“He was very good tonight,” Vermes said.
“He scored two goals, which was great. They were really good because that’s what he’s best at in and around the box,” he continued. “But a lot of that has to do with his movement off the ball. That’s why he found those situations. He wasn’t standing. He had movement in the play. He was already running before he even received the ball. That made him a little bit more elusive to the defender, and then he finished both balls really, really well.”
Sporting KC brought back striker Krisztian Nemeth from the New England Revolution just before the MLS transfer deadline. Vermes was very open that he expected Nemeth to bring a different level of talent to the squad and secure that starting striker spot.
Does Vermes think Nemeth’s return motivated Rubio to prove he should be Kansas City’s top No. 9?
“That’s a question you can ask him,” said Vermes. “But I’ll say that competition, it breeds the best performance of most players, because at the end you know if you’re not doing the job then somebody else is there to help it along.”
Since joining Sporting KC in 2016, Rubio has made just 45 appearances, only 19 of which have been starts. He has 13 goals and six assists in just 1,788 career minutes, only about two-thirds of what a typical starting striker plays in a single MLS season.
In 2018, the 25 year-old Chilean has six goals and four assists in just 448 minutes, good enough for 1.21 goals per 90 minutes played. For comparison, after Sunday’s game against Columbus, Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez has 27 goals in 2,103 minutes, good enough for 1.16 goals per 90 minutes played.
“I always felt confident about what I can do in the game,” Rubio said. “It’s something physical. You can run all game, you can press, you can do all the things that are required to play striker in this team.
“Of course I’m confident, but I’m very that happy we are winning,” Rubio said.
So does Rubio feel like the addition of Nemeth added motivation to take his game to a new level?
“I played one game as a starter in the first 20 games [this year]. I didn’t feel like a starter before Nemo came,” Rubio said. “I always train hard. I will do what I need to do. Of course it’s a competition, but for everybody, not just for me. Everyone feels the competition.”
If the competition has put any additional pressure on Rubio, he doesn’t let it show. When the striker was subbed off for Nemeth in the 73rd minute of Saturday night’s game, the entire sellout crowd at Children’s Mercy Park rose to their feet to give Rubio a much deserved standing ovation.
For his part, Nemeth dazzled in his short 17-minute appearance. He had a gorgeous cross to Yohan Croizet that could have led to a goal if the Frenchman put his shot on target, but Nemeth’s best moment of the night came when he earned an assist on a quick give-and-go with Johnny Russell to give Sporting their third goal of the night.