Sporting Kansas City ultimately had bigger fish to fry than Wednesday’s international friendly Champions Shield match against defending English Premier League champion Manchester City.
There was a smidgen of disappointment in the 4-1 loss at Sporting Park, which saw Sporting KC substitute its entire lineup at halftime.
The home team had fun, and it departs healthy for Saturday’s match at Toronto FC. That’s mainly what Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes wanted.
“It’d be interesting if we had that kind of workout on a weekly basis. It’s a great team for us to play, for a number of reasons,” Vermes said. “For us, our focus is on the league. We have a big game Saturday, and that’s where for focus was and is. … Everybody got out of here with no injuries, which is great. It was a good environment, a good game, and it was a good 45 minutes for both groups.”
It was Sporting’s first loss in four matches against Premier League teams. It beat Manchester United at Arrowhead Stadium in 2010, and had draws against Stoke City and Newcastle United in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
The first half was a high-octane affair from the opening whistle.
Manchester City wasted little time drawing first blood. A ball worked its way free in the penalty arc and Argentine midfielder Bruno Zuculini took the opportunity to bury a half-volley for a 1-0 lead in the third minute.
Sporting KC had a couple of tantalizing opportunities to equalize, including a Dom Dwyer goal that prompted the firing of a confetti cannon but was nevertheless ruled offside.
The real celebration came in the 30th minute thanks to C.J. Sapong. The Manchester City defense left Sapong alone in the middle of the 18-yard box. Benny Feilhaber picked him out with a deft cross, and Sapong calmly slotted the ball past Manchester City goalkeeper Willy Caballero to tie the game.
“With our team, we spend a lot of time in and around the goal, trying to become more clinical around the goal. More importantly, it’s that our guys are finding themselves in those positions because of the movements they made,” Vermes said. “That was one of the things C.J. did in that situation.”
Sapong knew a quality pass was coming when he got free.
“Benny has really been in form. I feel like every one of his free kicks and every ball he hits is spot on. It’s good to be in a position where you know it’s going to be there,” Sapong said. “You just have to adjust your run. It’s a run we worked on a lot. I could tell by their defense I had a lot of time, so I just wanted to take my time and put it in.”
Manchester City took the lead for good just before halftime.
Jesus Navas drew a foul and yellow card on Sporting KC defender Seth Sinovic. Navas curled the ensuing free kick into the Sporting KC penalty area, where Dedryck Boyata headed the ball down and past Sporting KC goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.
Aleksandar Kolarov scored in the 73rd minute on a penalty kick. Ihenacho added a tally in the 88th minute.
“The score of the game doesn’t matter. I understand it’s always important to win, but I understand Sporting Kansas City has a very important game against Toronto, and for us we have a lot of players who can demonstrate what they can do,” Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini said.
Michael Kafari, Martin Steuble and Jorge Claros all made their club debuts in the second half. Steuble didn’t arrive in Kansas City until Wednesday morning, due to travel issues.
Sporting KC enjoyed the experience on Wednesday, and now it focuses on Toronto.
“For 45 minutes we wanted to go out and play our style. We wanted to use it as a training exercise against an exciting team that a lot of us watch on Saturday morning,” defender Matt Besler said. “But beyond that, it’s not much more than that. We’re moving on to Saturday.”