Going into their soggy Sunday afternoon away tilt with Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City had won six of their last seven and regained the top spot in the Western conference by one point over FC Dallas. Clinching a playoff spot with a win was possible. After the subsequent 2-0 loss, Sporting still sits atop the West, at worst second in the West – and the playoff benefits that go with it – depending on FC Dallas’s result at Vancouver Whitecaps Sunday night. It’s a consolation despite the what-could-have-beens for a club and its fan base that have higher aspirations.
Miscommunication and missed connections for Kansas City and chances created by the Union revealed it may not be Sporting’s day in the opening 26 minutes.
Battling a watered-down Union squad preparing for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final Wednesday evening, Sporting KC then created an opportunity to control the match. Tim Melia played out for midfielder Felipe Gutierrez on the right after an easy save. Thru striker Krisztian Nemeth, midfielder Roger Espinoza received and played a ball into space for a diagonal running Gerso Fernandes now in alone on Union goalkeeper John McCarthy. Last week’s star after two goal and two assists cut to his right – evading McCarthy but passing on a far post shot – and shot waywardly with his right off the outside-left netting.
Sporting KC created a few more half-chances via quick ball movement and numbers in the attack, but none as clear cut the remaining half.
Yet fate smiled upon them in the 36th minute off a Union corner. Right back Graham Zusi cleared the service to the top of the box where the Union’s Fabian Herbers cracked a half-volley that was deflected onto the crossbar by center back Matt Besler, hit Melia’s foot on the way down, and fell for forward Jay Simpson. Simpson’s shot beat Melia, only to be cleared by a smart Seth Sinovic manning the goal line.
The two sides exchanged chances before halftime, Sporting’s falling to Gerso again and the Union’s calling for a strong save by Melia, but the scoreboard remained empty.
Interplay between an inside-cutting Gerso, Nemeth, and Espinoza resulted in left-to-right movement for a then back post ball in minute fifty-four. Espinoza chipped for Gutierrez whose downward header was saved by the trailing left-hand of McCarthy and forced wide of the net.
Chances and goal-saving heroics, however, did not result in what could have been a multi-goal lead for the visitors.
The 70th minute saw the hosts grab the match. Off a flighted free-kick near midfield, second-half sub and US International Alejandro Bedoya beat Sinovic and headed squarely back to the middle for Jay Simpson. The Arsenal forward signed in the offseason to increase scoring tallied his first of the season with a volley thru traffic that beat Melia low to the right.
Kansas City substitutions of Yohan Croizet for right-winger Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi for Gerso, and Gianluca Busio for Espinoza beginning in the 72nd minute, an increase of Zusi attacking on the right side, and an 88th minute Nemeth shot from close failed to garner scoreboard results.
One minute later, Philadelphia sealed a victory that solidified their playoff standing in the East. Substitute midfielder Fabrice-Jean Picault’s well-timed left-footed cross found Bedoya behind the KC back line. Bedoya headed back for Simpson who beat Melia to the near post on the right. Two goals by a slumping Simpson of all players for the hosts epitomized the day for Sporting Kansas City.
Thus, Sporting Kansas City missed an opportunity to go up perhaps four points on both FC Dallas and LAFC with just five matches remaining and tighten its grip on the Western Conference title. But it’s an away loss to a non-conference foe that can likely be afforded. A home win next Sunday against Real Salt Lake will now be more critical.