A reviving Sporting Kansas City will live to fight again, despite failing to take advantage of hosting conference rival FC Dallas at home Saturday night. Instead, Kansas City will likely be looking up at more sides in their climb to regaining a playoff spot, due mostly to their selves after a 2-0 loss.
On a two-game win streak for the first time all season, Sporting Kansas City (6-7-7, 10th place) had put themselves back in the heat of the MLS playoff race. Hosting FC Dallas (8-8-5, 7th place) – holders of the last playoff spot in the West – on Saturday evening was jumping into the fire. A win would be a significant leap to avoid more heat, a loss could mean a dialing up of the heat from all surrounding.
Amid a smothering 97-degree, 48% humidity evening and short midfield lynchpin Ilie Sanchez due to yellow card accumulation, however, the task was not an easy one.
Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes dealt out his lineup to feature Tim Melia in goal, (from LtoR) Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Botond Barath, and Graham Zusi across the back, Gedion Zelalem, Felipe Gutierrez, and Gianluca Busio in the midfield, and Gerso, Yohan Croizet, and Johnny Russell up front.
With crisp ball movement leaning a bit more direct than usual, it was a hungry Sporting Kansas early on. A quick ball off an interception from Besler, and a quicker through-ball for Gerso from Gutierrez came in the 7th minute. Gerso, having drawn in a defender, played square for Croizet, yet it was a ball-too-far as the center forward was unable to catch up to the pacey service.
Ten minutes later, it was part two. A midfield-circle central Gutierrez hit a virtually alone Gerso on the left. Opting to layoff for a far post Croizet, Gerso played a similar ball, though in tighter space, that a sliding Croizet was unable to push home.
Sporting had fired eight shots by halftime to their opponents’ four. But finishing is a skill, sometimes aided by the other team’s errors.
For the first time all season in two consecutive matches, Kansas City had played shutout soccer.
That came to a quick end in the 37th minute. An errant Sinovic ball back to a bewildered Busio at the edge of his own box went directly onto the foot of Hoops midfielder Michael Barrios. The Columbian pushed forward unhindered to play square for striker Dominique Badji whose foot reached the ball just in front of a retreating Zusi.
Having played provider, Sporting played timid in the 57th. Dallas midfielder Santiago Mosquera, wide on the left, lofted a looping ball to a center-top of the box Jesus Ferreira. Ferreira, surviving two fails by the middle of the Kansas City defense at winning the ball, waltzed in on Melia and put FC Dallas up two.
Sporting continued to create chances. A boost from the bench came in the 65th minute as Roger Espinoza came on to a rousing ovation after missing the last three months due to a knee ailment. He supplanted Zelalem. Earlier, Krisztian Nemeth had taken off Croizet. The last KC sub was Salloi for Russell on wing.
A chance for Busio came in the 86th from Espinoza scrapping in the box. Yet an aware FCD defender blocked. Gerso struck for the near post from right on the 18 minutes later, but goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez dropped to his left to corral the opportunity.
Six minutes of added time did nothing to add the spark, the magic that Kansas City lacked on the night. Even a slick series of passes from Espinoza to Salloi leading to a doorstep Nemeth opportunity failed to come to fruition in the closing minutes.
In the big picture, the result is a bump in the road, albeit a momentum slowing one, of a side that is getting key pieces back from injury and coming together at the right time. The question remains… who or what moment will provide the spark to light a long-lasting fire?
Sporting Kansas City will now travel to New York to face East foes NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Friday night.