Sporting KC continued its mini-slide Saturday at home against the expansion Montreal Impact, losing to the visitors 2-0.
Let’s call it what it was, a poor effort from the boys in blue.
But judging from the immediate online reaction you would think that the sky was falling on the Eastern Conference leaders.
A few examples:
@Sporting_Times tweeted, "When plan b is the same as plan a that happens ………….. MLS has figured #SportingKC out."
Then there was this exchange:
@MtRoyalSoccer, a Montreal supporter, tweeted, "@TheDailyWizKC it does not take out anything from #SportingKC but #IMFC have been progressing every single game."
To which @TheDailyWizKC replied, "@MtRoyalSoccer While we’ve been declining… #SMH."
A little knee jerk perhaps? Certainly there are some issues, as there always are with every team. But the sky is not falling… yet.
Sporting took the field in their dark blue tops and light blue bottoms, I think for the first time ever. After the way they played the first half, my vote is that these kits never see the light of day again. In fact, burn them.
LIVESTRONG was super packed and jacked for this game Saturday that saw former KC captain Davy Arnaud return for the first time with his new squad. KC’s starting lineup was a little different than usual, with Michael Harrington getting his first start of the season in place of Seth Sinovic who is out with a hand injury.
In the first 20 minutes Harrington looked a bit out of place – to be expected from a guy who had played all of one minute prior to this game. And it caused KC a bit of strain as they learned just what to expect from their fill-in left back. Graham Zusi was one player who seemed to struggle particularly, trying to identify how he should play with this new piece of the puzzle added. That is, until about the 25th minute when he uncorked a low blast from about 35 that barely missed the far post and forced a diving save from Montreal’s keeper.
KC owned the possession early on (and all night long, really), knocking the ball around confidently and pressing maybe as high as I’ve ever seen them. And fairly consistently up to Montreal’s penalty area.
In what has become quite a good trend for Sporting the last few games, they again won a bunch of corners, though a few of them self-destructed as the far post ball went too long over everyone’s heads. At half KC owned the corner advantage 6-1 and possession 65%-35%. But they were losing in the goal-scoring category, 1-0.
Montreal squelched any of the momentum KC had gained with a 25 yard blast from Felipe Martins that found the back of the net in the 30th minute. The play looked innocuous enough, but Martins just found a little space, ran up the gut, and his shot was perfectly placed.
"That’s normally a shot I expect myself to save," admitted White Puma Jimmy Nielsen after the game. "Of course it’s a big disappointment. My view was blocked for a split second and I couldn’t reach it."
The visitors’ goal stunned the LIVESTRONG crowd momentarily, but a few minutes later the shock turned to resolve.
KC, it seemed, was fighting for its life.
And why wouldn’t they be? They’re tops in MLS playing one of the weakest teams, at home, after a weeklong break. Maybe going down a goal is just what this team needed to wake back up and remember what it means to fight.
And fight they did, nearly equalizing off a classy set piece in the 51st minute that saw Matt Besler’s header sail just high and wide. From then on the boys in blue continued to dominate possession and create some decent chances for themselves, though they still were relying far too heavily on crosses and set pieces to generate their offense. Rarely dos a KC player crack off a legit shot from in front of the goal during the run of play.
But everything unraveled in the 62nd minute when KC was caught napping on a routine throw in and a speedy Montreal attacker got in behind the back line, forcing the contact that would lead to a penalty kick for the visitors.
"From the beginning of the game, we made some simple mistakes that we haven’t done before: losing the ball in dangerous areas, sloppy passes," explained Nielsen.
Up 2-0, Montreal was able to bunker even more than they had been, conceding possession and simply clearing out anything that came remotely close to their penalty area.
There were few, if any, bright spots on this night for Sporting. And none duller than Jekyll and Hyde second year striker CJ Sapong.
Sapong had another one of his ghost games and was subbed out in favor of Teal Bunbury in the 65th minute. Teal came on and looked snappy until he unleashed a 25 yard, left footed dribbler that I’ll call a shot only out of generosity.
In the end, Montreal was the tougher team. They matched KC’s physicality and handled the pressure better than anyone has so far this season. Which is kind of troubling if you’re looking at the two teams on paper.
Kei Kamara may have summed it up best, saying, "They kind of play our game, but they played it better."
Going forward KC will have to figure out how to create legitimate chances from the run of play if they want to continue earning points at a good pace. They need to insert a forward who is a real threat to hold the ball in the middle of the pitch and take on a defender, because right now their attack is too predictable and relies too heavily on their athleticism and winning head balls sent in from long crosses.
**All photos by Alex Jinks**