It was a quick turnaround for Sporting KC. They played at Vancouver on Wednesday night, and then finished their Pacific Northwest road trip Saturday night at Portland.
Playing this away game at JELD-WEN Field felt big. The atmosphere there is similar to LIVESTRONG Sporting Park– it was packed to the gills and loud. However the stadium is a fair amount bigger with a capacity of just over 22,000.
KC seemed to thrive on the vibe, rising to the occasion and settling in after a dodgy first 10 minutes.
After 90 minutes, though, the boys in blue were no longer perfect on the season, even though Portland’s only goal came via a charity own goal. More on that in a sec.
After the game, the visitors’ locker room actually wasn’t too disappointed. Yeah KC lost, but sometimes that just the way the ball bounces.
"I think the chances they had in the second half were great chances for them, other than that, I didn’t think they had much," said KC boss Peter Vermes. "At the end of the day, I wouldn’t change anything. I feel that we didn’t give up much until the end and that is a big plus for us."
And Sporting did play a pretty decent game overall. They again did all the little effort things. They high pressed all over the field relentlessly, even when the Portland keeper had the ball at his feet. And of course Roger Espinoza was a monster- at this point it’s almost routine to talk about the insane work rate of the Honduran international.
They tackled well, too, from the forwards to the back line. KC was so juiced up that I thought Aurelien Collin was going to break someone’s leg on multiple early hard challenges.
And Portland wasn’t pulling any punches either, fouling KC early and often, seemingly a tactical decision. Kei Kamara ended up taking the most abuse, as callous tackle after tackle knocked and nicked him resulting in several Timbers players receiving yellow card warnings.
Things took an unlucky turn for the worse about 40 minutes in though when KC defenders Chance Myers and Julio Cesar miscommunicated on a cross and Chance ended up putting an own goal in his own net with no opposing player really even in the area.
"It was just a bit of confusion on our part," said Vermes. "Chance did a good job in my mind and he is going to think of this for a while, but overall I’m happy with his performance."
It was the first time this season that Sporting trailed at the half so all eyes were on Vermes to see how he would pull the strings.
Though there were no halftime subs, Sporting came out of the locker room at the last possible second and had a renewed sense of energy about their play that was somewhat absent the first half. Gradually, KC began dictating the game and imposing their style again.
Both teams created decent chances but neither squad could quite find that last linking pass to put themselves into position to score. When the final whistle sounded Sporting had failed to score a goal for the first time this season, even though they created multiple decent chances and were again the dominant team.
Portland coach John Spencer was elated to get the three points against a superior squad, offering this telling remark after the game: "I think we stood up to them tonight, and gave them as good as we got."
Think about that. Portland’s coach is saying that the BEST his team could hope for- on a Saturday night at home in front of 22,000 screaming fans- is for an own goal 1-0 win against Sporting. That’s some respect, and it’s probably true.
And the Sporting players knew it, too.
"I think it’s just how the game goes, I don’t think that there were any glaring mistakes," said KC striker CJ Sapong. "Everything we did, we just didn’t do it to our maximum potential. It’s just been a long stretch of games and this rest will do great things for us. Hopefully we will start another streak after."
Indeed, Sporting KC doesn’t play again until May 5th so the boys’ legs should be fully refreshed for their first ever game against Montreal at LIVESTRONG.