It was an all too familiar finish for Sporting Kansas City fans Friday night at Sporting Park. Despite a middling performance on the field, the home side was dominant on the stat sheet in all categories but missed their chances when it counted, only to fall 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union in a crucial Eastern Conference matchup.
"On the attack side we just weren't clinical enough to score and you need to score, you need to put the ball in the back of the net, " manger Peter Vermes said after the match. "When you create that many chances, and you have that much pressure on another team, you got to score to open up the game. We put too much pressure on ourselves defensively with not scoring earlier. It comes down to scoring goals at the end of the day."
It was nearly a mirrored performance by Vermes' squad from the Real Estelí match on September 17. Sporting Kansas City doubled Philadelphia's attempts on goal 19 to 8, and held a significant edge in possession, 61.8 percent to just 38.2 percent. However, it took only one Philadelphia opportunity to keep a victory out of reach for Sporting Kansas City.
That opportunity came off the foot of Conor Casey in the 36th minute. Sporting Kansas City's Dom Dwyer gave up a crucial turnover to Michael Lahoud near the midfield. The ball eventually found Philadelphia's Danny Cruz who had a brilliant first touch to get around Ike Opara. Off the touch, Cruz crossed the ball in front of Jimmy Nielsen only for the veteran goalkeeper to make a superb, initial save. However, not to be denied, Casey scampered around the Sporting defense to net the rebounded ball.
"I couldn't find the second ball," Nielsen said. "I couldn't see from my own people. I was just hoping the best that somebody else would block the second shot. I haven't seen what happened, but we just have to move on from that."
Casey's goal was enough to put the Union ahead going into halftime, which hasn't meant good things for Vermes and company so far this season. Heading into Friday, Sporting was winless (0-3-1) when trailing at half, while Philadelphia was undefeated (6-0-2) when leading at the break.
That statistic would hold true to form despite the best efforts from Dom Dwyer who nearly put Sporting Kansas City on the board in the 52nd and 58th minutes off crosses from Chance Myers and Graham Zusi. It proved to be Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath's night as the 22-year-old came up with several fantastic saves to preserve the 1-0 shutout victory for the away side.
"We're disappointed," Dwyer said after the match. "We had so many more chances, we dominated the game, and it should have been a better result than that."
The game, specifically in the second half, seemed to mimic the aforementioned Real Estelí Champions League match last week at Sporting Park in terms of a definitive lull. However, Peter Vermes believes that the two performances have more in common than just the disappointing outcomes for Sporting Kansas City.
"I thought that we were playing Real Estelí at the end of the game here with everybody going down. Again, how many guys are going to lay down on the ground? At some point the referee has to take care of that, and I just don't understand why that management, every time they come to this building with a full stadium, doesn't get taken care of."
With the loss, Sporting Kansas City falls to 14-10-6, second in the Eastern Conference heading into this weekend's MLS action, while the Union moves to 11-10-9 on the year. The win gives Philadelphia a legitimate chance to reach the playoffs with just four remaining league matches, which includes two against teams eliminated from playoff contention and a season finale against Sporting on October 26 at PPL Park.
Sporting Kanas City hits the road next Saturday to take on the Columbus Crew at 6:30 p.m. CDT.