Sporting Kansas City ended the first-half of an exciting and successful 2018 with only its third loss on the season in muted fashion at Montreal Impact’s Stade Saputo Saturday evening. Facing an uncompromising defense, Sporting carved out only nine shots, three on target, and conceded two goals to their hosts.
Manager Peter Vermes’ Sporting Kansas City took its seven-match Major League Soccer unbeaten streak (nine in all competitions) to Montreal Impact (7-11-0). Top sitters in MLS’s Western Conference over FC Dallas via goal-differential, Kansas City had conceded just two goals in its last six away games in all competitions and were unbeaten in their last six matches (4-2) against Montreal, outscoring them 14-5 in the process. Remi Garde’s Impact, 9th in the East, were winners of the last three of four, posting three shutouts within.
In the only alteration from last week’s starters that defeated Houston Dynamo 3-2 at home, Vermes reinserted center back Matt Besler into the lineup for rookie Graham Smith after team captain Besler missed one league and one US Open Cup match due to a hamstring injury. Montreal’s Starting 11 remained unchanged from last week’s 2-0 win at Orlando City SC, headlined by playmaker Ignacio Piatti who has recorded three goals and four assists since the start of May, integral to seven of the club’s last eight goals.
And it was Piatti who first challenged Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia. After right back Graham Zusi’s friendly touch in the 9th minute gave the Argentine the ball, Piatti stroked a heavy shot from the left side of the box that forced Melia to shuffle left and punch the ball away.
Though Kansas City striker Daniel Salloi was one-v-one with the Impact’s last defender early off a ball from attacking midfielder Yohan Croizet, the hosts held a sure advantage in promising approach play, though only the one shot and a slight advantage in possession in the first 16 minutes. The approach play became more even as the half lengthened, however.
Sporting’s best chance in the first half, as they battled the full Montreal 11 behind the ball, was Ike Opara’s rising to meet a Zusi corner kick in the 29th minute. The recent US International nodded the ball a few yards wide of Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush’s right post.
Eight minutes before the half ended, the Impact’s Samuel Piette was forced off due to injury. Twenty-year-old Rookie Shamit Shome took up his position in central midfield.
Little ingenuity and seeming complacency settled in for Sporting Kansas City, resulting in little play between the Impact’s lines as the visitors circulated the ball near the mid-way line during much of their possession. A more industrious and stylish second forty-five minutes beckoned.
Croizet got off Sporting’s first shot on goal early in the half, but Melia kept the Impact off the scoresheet four minutes into the second half as he deflected away a stinging Rudy Camacho volley from the right edge of the six-yard box off a cross-box ball from Piatti.
Yet the match would turn despite more Melia efforts. In the 54th minute, Melia came out seven yards to block a fierce cross in from the left wing. As he retreated into position, Gerso and Croizet failed to tackle the ball away from Montreal attackers as the ball rolled invitingly to Piatti at the top of the box. The danger man crushed a right-footed shot that Melia pushed a right-hand onto as he dove left, only to see the ball hit the roof of the net.
Three minutes on, forward Khiry Shelton, scorer of the match-winner last week, entered the match as Gerso exited and Salloi headed to the vacated wing. And Shelton was close to leveling the match six minutes later as Zusi played for Croizet, positioned wide and deep on the left of Montreal’s box. An exquisite touch and a fizzing cross later, Shelton’s lunge for the ball couldn’t catch the Frenchman’s ball as it scooted across the goal mouth.
Sporting’s fortune took another hit in the 69th minute. Center back Ike Opara, trying to duck out of a worse challenge, caught the left foot of Impact back Daniel Lovitz as Lovitz latched onto a ball knocked back by Sporting’s Johnny Russell. Referee Ted Unkel quickly whistled for the penalty. Uruguayan Alejandro Silva took the spot kick on a hop, rolling the ball softly by the sliding Melia’s left side for his first goal with Montreal.
The goal inspired Vermes to immediately bring on forward Diego Rubio for left back Jaylin Lindsey. Soon thereafter, midfielder Roger Espinoza drew a dangerous central free kick 25 yards out in the 76th minute as Kansas City endeavored to get back in the game. But Bush would rise to his right to knock Zusi’s swerving attempt off the crossbar and the score line remained.
Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal was Sporting’s last substitute, coming on for Croizet in the 84th minute.
Kansas City had failed to solve Montreal’s compact and resolute defense and had surrendered two soft goals in only their third loss of the season.