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Sporting KC defensive mistakes lead to second straight home loss

Two inexplicable decisions by centerbacks Roberto Puncec and Matt Besler put Sporting KC behind in the first half, and the rest is history.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough regular season restart for Sporting Kansas City. Having won just two of their first seven games post-MLS is Back, Peter Vermes’ men entered Wednesday’s game against Orlando City SC in what felt to some like a must-win situation.

Sure, SKC was sitting in 2nd place in the Western Conference standings, but with just six points between 2nd and 11th place, there was hardly any margin for error.

Sporting KC came out relatively strong in the first 20 minutes, looking dangerous at times but unable to find anyone to add a needed finishing touch.

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

With designated player striker Alan Pulido still out of the starting XI after battling an injury, Sporting KC’s offense could not get going in any meaningful way. Cross after cross, set piece after set piece, Sporting KC had opportunities but could not make the most of them.

Orlando for their part didn’t do much to threaten Sporting KC to start the game, either. Throughout the first 35 minutes of the game, the teams split possession evenly, occasionally getting into the opposing team’s box but then bungling the final pass or shot.

That all changed in the 36th minute when Sporting KC had a massive defensive breakdown, something that has become all too familiar for Kansas City fans.

Tesho Akindele of Orlando City charged forward, and for some reason SKC centerback Roberto Puncec decided to step up in an effort to push Akindele offside, rather than picking up the forward. Puncec’s error left Akindele wide open with a one-on-one opportunity against Tim Melia, and the forward put the ball away with ease to give Orlando City the lead.

Just two minutes later, a bad Sporting KC defense got worse. In nearly an identical mistake, Matt Besler stepped up to seemingly try and force Orlando City forward Benji Michel offside. Once again, this left Michel wide open for another one-on-one with Melia. Michel put it away, and SKC suddenly found themselves down 2-0.

After the half Peter Vermes decided to bring on New Zealand international Winston Reid in favor of Matt Besler, who reportedly was suffering from hamstring tightness.

Sporting KC looked a completely different team to start the second half. They had a different intensity about them, and they were soon rewarded for their efforts.

In the 53rd minute Gerso received a cross from Graham Zusi at the edge of the box. The winger then sent the ball across the face of goal, and Johnny Russell crashed hard at the far post to head the ball into the back of the net at point blank range to pull SKC within one.

Sporting KC continued to push hard in the attack, with Gerso, Johnny Russell, and Gerso all getting close to finding an equalizer but just missing.

After a five game absence, SKC’s designated player striker Alan Pulido checked into the game in the 65th minute. He appeared to level the game just eleven minutes later in the 76th minute, but Khiry Shelton was flagged for being offside, and Pulido’s goal came off the board.

The two sides traded goal-scoring opportunities for the remainder of the game, but ultimately the game ended in the 2-1 score line, with the road team taking the full three points from Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park for the second straight game and the third time since the restart.

The loss leaves Sporting KC with 20 points through 13 games, although both 3rd place FC Dallas and 4th place MNUFC lost on Wednesday as well. Sporting KC somehow remains in 2nd place in the West at the time of this writing.

Kansas City next travel to Colorado on Sunday for a massive Western Conference showdown at 8 p.m. CT. A win on Sunday would assure that Sporting KC remain in 2nd place in the West a bit longer, while a loss could vault them multiple places down in the Western Conference standings.