The emphasis was placed almost exclusively on the Montreal Impact counterattack, deemed the biggest threat to a home winning streak. For days, Sporting Kansas City drilled intently on preventing Montreal from generating its against-the-grain runs.
And then it handed the Impact a free one Saturday.
A costly one, too.
Montreal pounced on a sloppy Sporting KC giveaway, setting up a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park.
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Montreal substitute Matteo Mancosu scored the goal in the 82nd minute after Sporting KC midfielder Soni Mustivar sent an ill-advised pass to his back line.
“I didn’t see him anticipate the pass,” Mustivar said. “(But) even my pass wasn’t good enough. I take responsibility, of course.”
The late turnover will be the lasting image. But in reality, the goal felt a long time coming after Sporting KC played dangerously, perhaps even carelessly, in the second half.
Montreal finished the match with 10 men after Chris Duvall was ejected in the 86th minute for a challenge on Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza, a foul that ignited a shoving match between the two teams and sparked some late life from Sporting KC.
Too late, though.
Montreal (4-4-5), which looked disinterested in generating offense in the initial half, played a large chunk of the second half in the offensive end of the field. Much of that was Sporting KC’s own doing.
Sporting KC (7-4-5), which has utterly dominated at home this season and still holds a 6-0-2 record here, was uncharacteristically disjointed throughout the half. Its home unbeaten streak stretched to 17 matches. The latest extension, however, won’t be remembered fondly.
“I don’t know if we did deserve (to win),” Sporting KC defender Ike Opara said. “I think in the second half, we talked about all the things we wanted to do better, and we didn’t. It actually got a little worse in a couple aspects.
“We didn’t put the game away. We didn’t do some of the things we wanted to do. So at the end of the day, I’m not sure we deserved it.”
Nevertheless, Sporting KC led for nearly an hour. The scoring opened with a familiar scene in front of the 20,334 fans at Children’s Mercy Park.
Gerso Fernandes scored his sixth goal of the season — all of them at home — in the 24th minute. The goal will find a home on the club’s 2017 highlight clips. A long pass from Ilie Sanchez sprung Fernandes open, like a post pattern down the middle of the field. Fernandes successfully held the defense off the ball and with one touch re-directed a shot into the back of the net.
It forced some changes in Montreal’s scheme, which had initially included five defenders on the back line.
“It changed everything because they didn’t know what to do,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “They didn’t have a Plan B at that moment. So at halftime, they made a change and obviously started stepping up the field.”
In response, Sporting KC produced a handful of turnovers — many of them unforced — to offer Montreal its best chances.
Mancosu finally pounced in the 82nd minute. He walked into the pass and lofted a shot over Tim Melia, who had come off his line to challenge the play.
“From the start of the game, we didn’t play as well as we are capable of,” Melia said. “Because we didn’t do that, we left the door open to allow a goal.”