By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1
Sporting Kansas City fell to Atlanta United 3-0; snapping their home unbeaten run on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park. It was the first time the home team lost to the reigning MLS Cup Champions.
With multiple injuries plaguing the roster – and missing key starters like Matt Besler and Roger Espinoza – Vermes fielded an almost unrecognizable lineup with only five subs available on the bench. Two of which earned their first MLS starts – Graham Smith and Gedion Zelalem (made his club debut). Kelyn Rowe and Botond Barath returned to the starting XI.
Sporting KC kicked off the match with a good opportunity when Graham Zusi unleashed a long-range curler that carried marginally beyond the right-hand post. Shortly thereafter, Atlanta’s Pity Martinez cut centrally onto his left foot and dragged a low shot wide of the near post.
The home side would earn another chance after Krisztian Nemeth could have recorded his 11th off a corner kick by Johnny Russell in the 13th minute, but his glancing header on the edge of the six-yard box missed the mark.
And then it stopped?
With both sides holding close to equal possession and overall passing accuracy, it seemed they locked in a game of keep away, as they passed the ball back-and-forth without creating any solid chances for a full 15 minutes.
*Writer’s note: I’m not suggesting no one was trying to create an opportunity, I just found the situation odd.
Just as it appeared the match would go scoreless into halftime, Josef Martinez opened the scoring for Atlanta in the 39th minute after retrieving the rebound off of Tim Melia at short range. Martinez went down briefly after a collision with the keeper. But he returned to the pitch uninjured to score the game winner in the 76th minute.
Two minutes after the restart, Atlanta doubled the lead. Sporting failed to clear a loose ball at the top of the penalty area and a shot fell invitingly to Ezequiel Barco, who made right-footed strike down the middle into the left side of the post.
Melia did well to deny the 20-year-old nine minutes later, then produced another reflex stop on a strike from Miles Robinson.
Down by two, Sporting KC ran the ball down to try to close the gap and earned two solid opportunities in the process. But as the script goes, Kelyn Rowe’s thunderous effort from the top of the box was blocked and Nemeth’s 22-yard curler skimmed over the woodwork.
In the 65th minute, the energy changed as Ilie entered the match in a double substitution.
Ilie did not appear once in training this past week and he was listed as questionable. So it’s understandable the predicament Vermes was forced into. And one he will probably see himself again:
“The problem is I don’t have the whole team available. It’s not just one guy. When you have a team – and every team has their starters – to then have to supplant all those guys with new players, it’s very hard.”
Regardless, the Spaniard still had a solid attempt shortly after Russell cuts into the middle and forces Guzan into a leaping save with a left-footed curler that bounced off the top corner in the 73rd minute. But the striker couldn’t put his strike within the frame.
Ultimately, it was Martinez’s second goal that gave Sporting KC their first loss of the season at home in a 3-0 deficit.
Even though frustration filled the locker room, the team remains optimistic about the future. Especially with the newcomers earning more playing opportunities:
“I thought the two center backs did a really good job. It’s a quality team with a lot of attacking minded players that are really good at combining and for the most part, till maybe the 70th minute we did a really good job shutting [Atlanta] down.” Melia told the press.
Seth Sinovic added: “I think everyone had their moments. I think everybody got the opportunity to improve, not just the new guys but the experienced guys. And it’s on the experience guys that have not only played a lot of games in the league but a lot of games in a sporting uniform – we have to be better leaders. We got to do a better job and we’re not filling that job right now.”
Next up, Sporting KC will travel to Audi Field to face Wayne Rooney and D.C. United for the first time.
“We have to concentrate on our first day back at training. Making sure we’re doing everything there [..] we build them correctly for the game against [D.C. United],” said Melia. “We just got to get back to being us. And look at one game at a time.”
Featured image: Peaty Romano
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