The blueprint included a striker, a high-dollar goal scorer to solve a dilemma that has plagued Sporting Kansas City for two seasons. But after the shopping mission encountered roadblocks, the club instead re-tooled the surrounding positions, with coach Peter Vermes insisting his team was not short on offense.
That might be true.
But it wasn’t on opening night.
New York City FC marched into a sold-out Children’s Mercy Park and shut out Sporting KC 2-0 on Sunday, dealing the club its first home opener loss inside the stadium since it was constructed in 2011.
“It’s disappointing for the fans to come out as strong as they did and us not live up to it,” Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia said. “I don’t think we played the type of game we wanted to play from the early onset.”
It was, from Sporting Kansas City’s perspective, a dud.
The club placed three offseason acquisitions in the front five positions of its formation — with Yohan Croizet and Johnny Russell flanking incumbent striker Diego Rubio and Felipe Gutierrez spotting as the attacking midfielder — but Sporting KC produced only three shots on goal and zero in the back of the net.
The most encouraging moments came in the final half hour, signs of desperation and life that arrived only after New York City FC had generated its two-goal lead. Gutierrez clipped the crossbar on a free kick. Daniel Salloi, a second-half substitute, earned a penalty kick, only to have it overruled by video replay. Gerso Fernandes nearly earned one after another review, but the foul was ruled just outside the box.
That action was virtually absent for the initial hour, leaving the majority of a sold-out crowd of 20,831 to depart before the final whistle.
A club that has prided itself on organization displayed little of it in the opening half, allowing the high press from NYCFC to dictate the match. Maxi Moralez opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, and Jesus Medina doubled the margin in the 53rd.
“We struggled a bit in the first half for some reason — not quite sure why,” Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said. “Whether it was that we were too excited for the first game or we were a bit nervous to come out and put on a performance for the fans — whatever the reason — we looked a bit nervy.”
A defense that stayed sealed for 34 matches last season displayed a seam in the first half, permitting 2016 MLS MVP David Villa to scoot toward goal and assist the Moralez goal. It could have been more just before halftime, but NYCFC could not finish off a 2-on-0 break, with Sporting KC defender Cristian Lobato racing back to negate the unusual chance. It was one of several disjointed moments from a team integrating players into MLS.
“It got better better as the game went on, but I think it’s going to take a little time to put all the pieces together,” Vermes said.
It’s one match. And just the first of 34.
But it’s three dropped points for a club that has only narrowly missed hosting a home playoff match each of the past four seasons. Sporting KC lost once at home in 2017, a number it matched in the first two hours of 2018.
“Obviously you wanna be perfect at home, and we’re off to a bad start,” defender Ike Opara said. “That being said, it’s not an uphill climb — it’s Week 1.
“But as most of the guys said in the locker room before the game — and the new guys will learn — every point matters in this league.”