Sporting Kansas City took the field at Children’s Mercy Park in perhaps the most uncomfortable position they’ve been in since the stadium opened in 2011. Sitting in 10th place in the West with just nine games left in the 2019 season, SKC pretty much had to defeat the San Jose Earthquakes if they had any hope of making the postseason.
It may not have been pretty the entire time, but thankfully Sporting KC found a way to get it done.
The game started out entirely in the Earthquakes favor. San Jose had been threatening for much of the first 20 minutes, with Cristian Espinoza’s speed clearly giving Luis Martins trouble in his first MLS start. However, it was the MLS all-time leading scorer, Chris Wondolowski, who scored the first goal for San Jose in the 25th minute.
The Earthquakes took a corner kick, and for some reason no Sporting KC defender was marking the American forward, who found himself wide open near the six-yard line and expertly put the ball past Tim Melia and into the left of the net.
Wondo. Free header. Side netting.#Quakes74 take the lead! #SKCvSJ pic.twitter.com/Utdn5muQ5A— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 18, 2019
San Jose continued to press throughout the rest of the first half, earning multiple attacking chances and nearly converting many of them. Cristian Espinoza in particular seemed to cause trouble throughout the first half for left back Luis Martins, who, in his first MLS start, was having trouble keeping up with Espinoza’s speed and appeared exhausted by the halftime whistle.
While the offensive performance was underwhelming during the first 45 minutes, it was the defense that had the majority of the issues. In fact, Sporting KC allowed more shots in the first half than they ever had in the Opta era, per Sam McDowell of the KC Star.
In the Opta era (2010-present), #SportingKC has never allowed a team to take 14 shot attempts in a half ... until tonight. https://t.co/nBqt9LJdsh— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) August 18, 2019
The second half was an entirely different story.
Johnny Russell nearly leveled the game with a knuckle ball from distance almost immediately after the half started. It was all Quakes keeper Daniel Vega could do to get a finger on it and push it out for a corner kick. Unfortunately for SKC, nothing came of the ensuing set piece.
Just six minutes into the half, though, Sporting KC’s fortunes changed. Johnny Russell sent a ball across the box to Jimmy Medranda, who chested it down to Benny Feilhaber near the top of the box. Benny was able to take the strike from his left foot first time and sneak the ball past Vega for the equalizer.
Benny on the half-volley!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 18, 2019
SO. GOOD. #SKCvSJ pic.twitter.com/8AtkPxC3Fd
Sporting KC seemed to have a renewed sense of life after the Feilhaber goal. While the defense was still shaky at times, suddenly Vermes’ men began creating numerous attacking chances. Sporting KC nearly put goals away at the feet of Erik Hurtado, Roger Espinoza, and Johnny Russell, but Vega did just enough each time to keep the game level at one.
Until the 75th minute.
Johnny Russell was fouled by Magnus Eriksson just outside the penalty area. Russell took the ensuing free kick and nearly put it in the net, but it bounced off the right post. The shot was good enough to pull Vega to the far side of the net, however, which left the goal wide open for Graham Smith to tap in the rebound, scoring his first career MLS goal and giving Sporting KC the 2-1 lead.
Right place ➕ right time.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 18, 2019
A first MLS goal for Graham Smith! 2-1. #SKCvSJ pic.twitter.com/iYxeu7Tr0D
San Jose fought hard over the last 15 minutes to find an equalizer, but Sporting KC were able to do what they needed to do to hang on and earn the full three points.
Although the first half may have been one of the worst halves of soccer Sporting KC has played in a long time, the second half showed that this team is not ready to give up on the season. SKC were the better side in the final 45 minutes, earning a deserved victory after a lackluster start.
The win moves Sporting into 9th place in the West on 31 points, six points out of a playoff spot. Things won’t get much easier next week as Sporting KC welcome Minnesota United to town, who sit on 42 points, good enough for 2nd place in the West at the time of this writing.
With just eight games left in the season, Sporting need to channel their second half form and keep winning if they have any hope of pushing for a playoff spot.