It didn’t look like it would be much of a game on paper. Turns out the paper was right.
Just a few days after Sporting Kansas City was forced to cancel practice due to injuries, Peter Vermes’ squad took the field at Children’s Mercy Park with just 16 available players, two fewer than the standard 18 in a game day lineup. Both starting CBs, Matt Besler and Andreu Fontas, were out. The midfield only featured one regular starter in Felipe Gutierrez [Editor: who played out of position]. Daniel Salloi had to step into the left wing spot after Gerso broke his wrist last week against the Revolution.
Meanwhile, defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United came to town at near full strength.
The game actually started out surprisingly well for Sporting KC. For nearly the entire first 15 minutes, SKC looked like the more dominant side. They controlled possession and played such a high press that at some points every player on the field except for Tim Melia were in the ATLUTD half of the field.
As the half went on, things balanced out a bit and Atlanta began to take control of possession. Sporting KC continued to play well defensively for most of the first half, as the CB pairing of Smith and Barath handled the challenges from Josef Martinez and Pity Martinez about as well as one could hope.
Just as it was starting to look like the depleted SKC side might actually be able to play with the defending champions, Yohan Croizet made a mess of a challenge in the midfield that sprung Ezequiel Barco free on the attack. Barco charged straight at goal and fired a rocket at Tim Melia that the keeper couldn’t gather. The ball rebounded right to Josef Martinez’s feet, who fired it into the net for the opening goal of the game in the 39th minute.
After the half, any hope Sporting KC fans had of a comeback was dashed quickly. Atlanta United came out strong on the attack, and in the 48th minute Barco fired a laser from outside the box past Melia and into the bottom left corner of the net, doubling ATLUTD’s lead.
Atlanta continues to press in the attack, proving time and time again that they were the better side on the night. SKC did create some chances throughout the second half, including a near stunner of a goal by Johnny Russell in the 73rd minute, but Josef Martinez sealed the game in the 77th minute when he earned a brace with a powerful goal from near the penalty spot.
At 2-3-4 (W-L-D) on the year, Sporting KC are starting to dig themselves into a pretty big hole in the Western Conference, sitting in 10th place on just 10 points through eight games. The schedule won’t get any easier, either, as five of their next six matches feature D.C. United, Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, and Toronto FC.
Sporting KC returns to action at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 12, against second place Eastern Conference side D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington D.C.