Well, it happened again…
Despite dominating 3/4ths of the game and leading FC Dallas 2-0 late in the second half, Sporting Kansas City found a way to give up last second goals and hand over three crucial points that were already penciled in under the win column.
And damn it was an exciting game, back and forth action all night.
Dallas scored twice in the final few moments to win 3-2. At the final whistle, a large contingent of the 20,000 plus in attendance at LIVESTRONG rained boos down on the home team. For the previous 90 minutes, though, the atmosphere was the best of the year inside the best stadium in MLS.
However KC has a serious problem this season with their lack of ability to close out games. Remember the Seattle game, Sporting’s first loss at LIVESTRONG, where stoppage time goals ripped away the game?
A similar thing happened in Portland, though that game ended 3-3.
After the game, Sporting midfielder Roger Espinoza offered little to explain the letdown…
"I don’t know what happened from there, we lost concentration," he said. "It’s frustrating this is about the fourth time this has happened this season, we either have to settle for a point, or we lose. This is the second time at home."
At this point it’s no longer merely a string of bad luck, an anomaly, or whatever you want to call it. No, SKC’s problem lies in their tactics late in these close games, and Vermes needs to make sure everyone is on the same page going forward if this team wants to make some noise in the playoffs.
First things first.
I understand the concept of "killing a game" when a team is leading late. You know, stepping on the ball, not really trying to attack much, slowly walking up to throw ins, and making the ref scold you on goal kicks – wasting time.
KC was doing all that, but there’s a time and a place.
Saturday night, leading 2 goals to none, KC started in with the slow-down in damn near the 75th minute. They still had 20 minutes to play!
In the 80th minute, with the score now at 2-1 in KC’s favor, Kei Kamara had a half breakaway chance up the right flank. He had a streaking teammate on the far side and only one man to beat to get in on the keeper. But instead of attacking, or making any aggressive move for that matter, the veteran striker dribbled to the corner flag and attempted to shield the Dallas defenders.
Kamara was dispossessed in a matter of seconds.
Then, six minutes later, rookie CJ Sapong did essentially the same move, with the same result.
What happens in the last ten minutes to the aggressive, attacking play that Vermes demands for the first 80? Why not stick with what got you there in the first place?
If a player is dribbling to the corner up one goal in the 80th minute, surely that move has to be sanctioned by the coach, right? It has to be. If not, there’s no way Kamara and Sapong do that.
Thinking he’s doing the right thing to seal the deal, Vermes is actually making his team tentative at the end of games. For instance, just after Dallas scored to put the score at 2-1, Vermes subbed out Omar Bravo – not for another attacker or midfielder – but for Aurelien Collin, a defender who hasn’t played in about a month.
First off, why go to five defenders at that point? It’s not an aggressive play. And besides, if you’re going to take off a forward, why not sub Teal Bunbury, who already had a yellow card? Hindsight is 20/20 I know, but Teal had a marginal game, missed a routine goal, and got shown a second yellow card making SKC play the end of the game with only ten men.
Next, Vermes inserted Michael Harrington (another defender) for the club MVP Graham Zusi. Dallas scored the winning goal a few moments later.
And, oh yeah, Harrington proceeded to miss an open net on a header that would’ve tied the game in the last second.
By becoming too tentative, Sporting has squandered at least 7 points this season. Minimum.
Now consider the fact that KC is just 4 points behind Eastern Conference leaders Columbus, but only five points ahead of 6th place DC United.
And the fact that the top three in the East and West all get automatic playoff bids, with the rest being allocated at large by highest point totals.
And the fact that if they were in the West, KC would currently be in 6th place, on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
So you can see why losing these games that should have been put to bed is so crushing, especially right now.