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Sporting KC suffer 1st loss in clash of unbeatens

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Visitors unable to put stamp on match in second of two-game road swing

MLS: Sporting KC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

On the back side of a difficult two-game away stretch against two top teams in their own Western Conference and all of Major League Soccer, Sporting Kansas City suffered their first loss of the season at FC Dallas 1-0 after surrendering only their third goal on the season on a 77th minute header from the hosts’ Maynor Figueroa. The outcome was portended by an uncharacteristic first half struggle for Sporting, despite a better played second forty-five.

It was an early season clash of the titans that commenced Saturday night in Frisco, Texas, as FC Dallas hosted Sporting Kansas City. Sporting came in off an early season statement game with their 1-0 win at MLS-leading Portland Timbers last week, while the hosts drew San Jose 1-1 on the road.

Each side came in as one of only two undefeated teams on the season in MLS at 3-0-3 for Sporting Kansas City and 3-0-2 for FC Dallas and each posting one of the two smallest goals-against averages in MLS. In addition, FC Dallas were riding a ten-game home unbeaten streak dating back to last season.

Despite an advantage in time of possession, as is their mode, Sporting was outplayed by the home side who threatened most in the first ten garnering two corners and two opportunities and should have taken the lead in the 8th minute. Roland Lamah split Sporting’s Matt Besler and Ilie in the box and rose for a clear header nine yards out on a ball from Hernan Grana on the right wing. However, the free chance was nodded right into the relieved arms of goalkeeper Tim Melia who made the easier-than-should-have-been save.

FC Dallas continued to threaten with Sporting with chances and half-chances through the 18th minute out of the sometimes-sloppy play of the visitors and their own disruption of Kansas City’s possession in the middle of the pitch as the hosts cut down space for Sporting’s midfield and flank play, limiting them to two blocked shots.

Combined with Sporting’s uncharacteristic errors, FC Dallas’s ability to transition quickly into the attack and take better advantage of wide spaces made this contest much different from the early season meeting at Children’s Mercy Park on March 11 where Kansas City outshot an alternate FC Dallas side (due to roster rotation from their CONCACAF Champions League play) 14-6.

The 40th and 41st minutes were indicative of Sporting’s wayward play. First, a sliding Besler missed an interception on the left side of Melia who then gave a dangerous rebound on the resulting shot before covering. Then, center back Ike Opara passed back to marked midfielder Roger Espinoza, positioned in front of his own box in the middle of the park. Dallas forward Maximiliano Urruti dispossessed Espinoza from behind and played Lamah at the right top of box, but the rolling shot was saved by Melia.

The half ended scoreless for both teams, but in a 5-0 advantage for the hosts in shots on goal.

Sporting began the second stanza by nearly taking the lead on a piece of skill from left midfielder Jimmy Medranda two minutes in. Twelve yards out to the left of goal, the diminutive Colombian was given space and time by his defender before calmly hooking a left-footed shot on a cross-box feed from Espinoza. The delectable attempt saw FC Dallas netminder Jesse Gonzalez dive to his left to knock the ball away to safety.

The second half saw Sporting hit their groove with more purposeful and dangerous possession but without anything coming to fruition.

In the 72nd minute, both managers made midfield substitutions as Sporting midfielder Soni Mustivar replaced playmaker Benny Feilhaber, and FC Dallas inserted midfielder Michael Barrios for Tesho Akindele.

Barrios would help turn the match five minutes later. After an inside-out build up by FC Dallas, Barrios received wide and deep on the right wing. His well-flighted cross was met by defender Maynor Figueroa who had gotten inside Sporting’s Gerso Fernandes on the back post. Flying high, Figueroa banged the ball home inside Melia’s right post for the 1-0 lead.

Now with the task to draw level, Sporting made two substitutions as Daniel Salloi entered for Medranda and Latif Blessing for Gerso in the 81st and 85th minute respectively.

Yet Sporting was unable to threaten and their undefeated start to the season came to an end.

Now 4th place in the West, Sporting will be back home for a date with Real Salt Lake (2-3-2, 6th in the West) next Saturday night.