The most grueling stretch of the Sporting Kansas City season arrived in the middle of August. It required nearly 10,000 miles of travel and stops in three different countries over a 15-day stretch.
Afterward, Sporting KC was properly rewarded with a two-week break from action. But coming off that hiatus on Friday, an energetic start gave way to a unsatisfying conclusion that could play a pivotal role in playoff seeding next month.
Sporting KC played last-place Houston to a 3-3 draw on Friday — after it gave up a pair of leads in the second half.
On a night in which Sporting KC played its 100th home regular season match at Children’s Mercy Park, Houston defender Raúl Rodríguez evened the score in the fourth minute of stoppage time — merely seconds before the final whistle.
“We had, gosh, I don’t know how many opportunities to win this game,” Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “Not a good one to let slip away.”
The draw ended Sporting Kansas City’s six-match home winning streak, falling one victory shy of a club record.
It looked promising. Twice.
Jacob Peterson and Roger Espinoza gave Sporting KC a 2-0 lead only 26 minutes into the game. Peterson has scored in four straight home matches. Espinoza supplied a majestic 20-yard strike. But Houston — the winners of only one road tilt this season — countered with two goals to even the score.
In the 81st minute, Sporting KC, 11-12-6, surged ahead once more. A deflection sent a bouncing ball to the far post, and Dom Dwyer simply tapped it in for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.
Again, Houston’s late tally prevented that from qualifying as a game-winner — and it subtracted two points from a Sporting KC team looking to solidify its playoff position.
“It’s tough. It’s that time of the season when you need points,” Dwyer said. “We don’t want to play in the play-in game. We’re trying to get three points.”
Sporting KC stayed in fifth place in the Western Conference, seven points in front of seventh-place San Jose, though San Jose has played three fewer games.
The top six teams will qualify for the postseason, but only the top two will receive a bye. The third seed will host the sixth seed in a one-game knockout match, with the fourth seed playing host to No. 5.
In each of the past two seasons, Sporting KC has been eliminated in the knockout round — both of them on the road.
An opportunity to put a playoff game inside Children’s Mercy Park for the first time since Sporting KC raised the MLS Cup in 2013 narrowed with Rodriguez’s final goal.
“We gave up the two points tonight — but we don’t have anybody to blame expect ourselves,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We gave up three goals, which we never should’ve (allowed). In those three actions, we were very poor. In the last one, it was terrible management in the game. Terrible.”
Espinoza took responsibility for the latter. Houston scored its final equalizing goal off the reverberation from a set piece, given to the Dynamo after Espinoza fouled Boniek Garcia near midfield.
“I feel like it was my fault, a big part, because it was pretty much the last play of the game,” Espinoza said. “I don't think you should ever foul him there. We know how good they are on set pieces.”