A leaky defense, albeit with a patchwork backline, even against the struggling New England Revolution was Sporting Kansas City’s Achilles’ heel again Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. A first half Kristzian Nemeth goal, sandwiched by two for the visitors, plus a third by the end of the first half, set the stage for a wild second stanza.
Either way one looked at it, Sporting Kansas City (2-2-3) needed a victory and the three points that accompany it as they hosted New England Revolution (2-6-1) Saturday night. Sporting came in with both a nine-game regular season unbeaten streak and a five-game winless streak in all competitions. More so, the perennial contenders had fallen below the playoff redline in MLS’s Western Conference. The side’s last home – and league – win was back on March 30 in a 7-1 shellacking of Montreal Impact.
Four “regular” starters were held out of the match for Kansas City as center back and team captain Matt Besler, left back Seth Sinovic, midfield lynchpin and leader Roger Espinoza, and defensive midfielder Ilie were out of the lineup, mostly due to injury. From last week’s 4-1 loss at San Jose Earthquakes, there were three new entries into the starting eleven: center backs Andreu Fontas and Abdul Rwatubyaye and midfielder Kelyn Rowe.
The initial quarter-hour saw Kansas City repeatedly foray near the Revs’ box, eventually encumbered by either a wayward touch or pass or a New England intervention.
In the 17th, it was the visitors who threatened from the left as KC right back Graham Zusi was beaten around the corner. Subsequently, forward Juan Agudelo was played square but his attempt went wide of Tim Melia’s left post. The method was a harbinger, however, of New England finding pay dirt first on their next surge.
The Revolution entered from the left wing, this time to the foot of Juan Fernando Calcedo, criminally unmarked in front of a sole Melia. The Colombian made no mistake inside the near post for his first marker in a New England kit.
Sporting dialed up the pressure in the ensuing minutes with Krisztian Nemeth, first from a hustling Johnny Russell cross, then from a square ball from Gerso, go close.
But it would be Zusi who provided the service on Nemeth’s ninth goal in all competitions, his fifth of the MLS season. Rowe flighted a ball for a wide-right Zusi; then Zusi took a touch and hit a precise cross for Nemeth, who only had to reposition his stance and pierce the ball with his head and into the middle of the net.
Three minutes. Three minutes was all it took for Calcedo to regain the lead. Tajon Buchanan beat Fontas and Rwatubyaye down the right channel and fed for a middle-running Calcedo who beat Zusi’s slide and Melia for the 2-1 New England lead.
This time on Sporting’s left side, Buchanan popped up again in the 42nd minute, beating Croizet. The Canadian lofted a cross for Calcedo, attended by a host of KC defenders. Rwatubyaye attempted an acrobatic clear, but whiffed on the play. The ball hit Zusi near the shoulder and fell for a far post Agudelo who slotted past a baffled Melia for a 3-1 lead.
Despite a promising Kansas City flurry in front of the Revs net in the 44th minute, Sporting went into the locker room needing three for a needed win.
Sporting Manager Peter Vermes inserted Ilie for Busio at the start of the 2nd half.
A quick goal for the hosts would be a salve, and Rowe efforted to play soothsayer twice early on. First clipping a clever ball over the top for Gutierrez, then drawing a foul on the left edge of his former side’s box. Yet, neither garnered the necessary result.
In the 55th minute, an on the move Rowe played for a central Gerso one-on-one with Revs’ center back Brandon Bye. As Gerso touched past, Bye took down the speedster, earning a straight red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. A light had come on for the hosts.
Another would shine bright three minutes on. From a Fontas re-collection, Zusi fed for Gerso penetrating the Revs’ box. Gerso touched past Buchanan, who was judged to have inhibited the Guinea-Bissau native. Gutierrez stepped up to take the penalty and hit it down the middle and off the foot of goalkeeper Cody Cropper to pull Kansas City within one.
However, the 63rd minute would bring a reversal. Official Baldomero Toledo consulted VAR after a possible handball by Russell in his own box. The replay convinced the veteran official and Carles Gil stepped up for New England to restore their two-goal advantage. Melia had a different plan, saving Gil’s shot, but DeJuan Jones cleaned up the bouncing rebound for the score and a 4-2 lead.
This match had the feel of more goals. How many, though, was the question. Off a poor New England clearance in the 70th minute, the ball was played into the visitor’s box for Nemeth. A battling Nemeth touch later, Gutierrez poked the ball into the net to, once again, pull his side within one.
Gerso and goalkeeper Cropper collided as they fought for a ball in the goalmouth three minutes later. The result was a save for Cropper and an exit from the match for the fallen Gerso. He was stretchered off and replaced by Daniel Salloi.
A deflected Zusi cross gained a corner – and an in – for Sporting in the 83rd minute. Russell played in a spinning in-swinger for which Nemeth ghosted in between defenders. The Hungarian’s flick towards goal seemed to be touched also by a defender, but, either way, it beat Cropper and tied this wild match at fours. The goal was Nemeth’s second on the night and six on his 2019 MLS ledger.
Former SKC defender, Jalil Anibaba drew a second red for the Revs in the fading moments of the match, but that and the seven minutes of stoppage time were not enough to push Kansas City to the much need three points. But a wild point had been salvaged and some players had shown well.
Sporting will host Atlanta United next Sunday, May 5, as they try to claw back above the redline and gain a winning streak.