Over the past couple of weeks Sporting has taken a hit in the standings. After an unexpected victory in New York on April 9, the team had two games the following week. First, at home versus the inferior Colorado Rapids the home team fell behind early only to later equalize before giving up a late goal to seal the loss in the 20th anniversary game. Four days later in Dallas, the team took an early lead then again gave up two goals for the loss. Those results have left SKC in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference race. While it is early in the season it is important to accumulate points throughout, especially in home games against teams you’re better than.
On Wednesday April 13, the team celebrated their 20th year as a franchise with a rare mid-week match – “Retro Night” – played 20 years to the day of the first ever match, one which the Wiz won 3-0 against the same Colorado Rapids. Recalling the early days of the Kansas City “Wiz,” Sporting’s merchandizing team created a warmup jersey and special rainbow colored numbers to wear for the event. The Cauldron also paid homage to the old brand with a tifo display in support of the team.
All of the nostalgia could not bring the team to victory. Peter Vermes has had some difficulties early in the season dealing with injuries and suspensions to key players. On top of that the schedule presented three games in eight days, never an easy prospect from a physical standpoint. Because of this Vermes decided to run out a squad against the Rapids that was a mix of regular starters and substitutes. Injuries or squad rotation mean regular starters Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber, Brad Davis and Dom Dwyer would not start. In their place were Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum, Connor Hallisley and newly signed forward Diego Rubio.
As is standard with Sporting’s play, particularly at home, the team dominated possession, crosses and chances. Yet just before halftime fill-in defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum, playing out of his best position, was dispossessed in the midfield by MLS veteran Marco Pappa. Two touches later Pappa found Luis Solignac running into the SKC penalty box who slotted his shot home for the Rapids opening goal. In the 77th minute after many close chances from Sporting, Hallisley came onto the ball on the right side of the attacking third. His cross into the box found Dwyer, who had since subbed into the match, and as SKC fans are accustomed to seeing he made no mistake with a snap header from 12 yards, tying the score at 1-1.
The excitement created by a late equalizing goal did not last long as just four minutes later after some possession in the midfield, Colorado struck a 35-yard shot that cleared Tim Melia only to blast off of the crossbar. The rebound came directly out in front of goal where a late tracking Nuno Coelho was unable to prevent Shkelzen Gashi from easily putting the ball past Melia for a 2-1. The game would end 10 minutes later in frustration for the home side that had wished to replicate the dominance from 20 years prior.
Four days later the team traveled to Dallas to face the red hot FC Dallas team. With the top spot in the league up for grabs to the winner, the contest was always going to be difficult. Despite the serious rain and thunderstorms that have been pounding the state of Texas the game was able to be played in front of a reduced crowd. Sporting was able to see Dwyer, Davis and Besler return to the starting lineup, yet lost Graham Zusi to illness. Against a stronger opponent in Dallas the additional firepower would be needed.
In an relatively evenly played match Sporting were able to strike first. After excellent chances by both teams resulted in no goals Sporting earned a corner kick in the 22nd minute. Feilhaber’s low cross was missed by the first wave of attackers and defenders, skipped off of the wet surface just in front of the goalie and found the head of Olum who was just three yards away from an open net. His snap header gave Sporting a valuable 1-0 lead. And then, in the 35th minute, Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta played a long ball toward the middle of the SKC defense. Besler took a poor angle toward the pass, trying to step in front of the Dallas attacker to intercept the pass but instead ran right by the ball. One touch later from Max Urruti put Michael Barrios in on Melia at a tight angle. Melia was unable to stop the close range shot as it slid in under his arms, leveling the match at 1-1.
As the game progressed with true end-to-end action neither team was able to take the lead. Then in the 68th minute, a poor foul 20 yards directly in front of the Sporting goal left veteran Mauro Rosales with a free kick. He made no mistake in clearing the wall and beating Melia to his right for the 2-1 lead and what would eventually be the game winner.
Looking forward, Sporting Kansas City, after a much needed week of rest, hits the road in San Jose tomorrow. The Earthquakes are coming off of their own 3-1 road loss last weekend at the hands of the Portland Timbers. SKC will likely continue to be without Myers and Mustivar, which will present Vermes a challenge in deciding if he will continue to ask Olum to play in the defensive midfield role where he has struggled the past few games. With the rest of the lineup poised to be rested and ready to go the team should be able to put its best foot forward in an important Western Conference matchup.
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