Jacob Peterson stood in front of his Sporting Kansas City locker late Friday night — his body still showing the wounds of a 90-minute battle — and rattled off a list of reasons why he considers Sporting Park an unrivaled atmosphere. The venue welcomed its 47th consecutive sellout Friday.
But it hasn’t produced correlative victories. Not this season.
The Philadelphia Union stole another result at Sporting Park on Friday, coming from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with the defending MLS Cup champions in front of 21,318 fans.
While Sporting KC extended its unbeaten streak to eight matches, it played to a draw for the sixth time this season in 11 home matches.
“Our home form has been probably about the worst in the league,” Peterson said. “It’s not good enough here. We know that. It’s crazy, because we have unbelievable fans, and the atmosphere is really unmatched around the league. That’s on us.”
Sporting KC, 11-5-6, stretched its lead atop the Eastern Conference table to two points, but it missed an opportunity to widen the gap on D.C. United even further.
Graham Zusi scored for the second straight match to put the club ahead 1-0 in the 54th minute before the Union sealed a counterattack with the equalizer from Brian Brown in the 71st minute.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Philadelphia handed Sporting KC a 2-1 defeat on May 14 when it relied strictly on a counterattack for its offensive production.
“It’s frustrating that that team came in and did the exact same thing they did last time, and we didn’t learn from the mistakes,” Zusi said. “It came back to bite us.”
A day after Zusi’s goal against Toronto FC was selected as the MLS goal of the week, the pizazz on his latest tally came on the pass. Zusi was set up by a deft touch from forward Toni Dovale, who helped Zusi find the 20th goal of his career.
He nearly added No. 21.
A minute after putting Sporting KC on top, he missed the right post by less than a foot.
“I thought we had a chance, especially after we scored the first one, to get a couple more,” Zusi said. “That would have probably sealed the game. I had one about a minute after I scored the goal that I probably should’ve put away, as well.”
Instead, the Union sprung to life. It resulted in the first goal of Brown’s career. He used his head to redirect a Raymond Gaddis crossing pass across the goal line.
“Unfortunately we gave up a soft goal there at the end,” manager Peter Vermes said. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t have stepped out. They would’ve had four guys offsides. But we stood in there. That’s a mental lapse on our part.”
It left no chance of denial by keeper Andy Gruenebaum, who gave an otherwise laudable performance while he continues to fill in for the injured Eric Kronberg. Gruenebaum remained unbeaten in five starts.
Content to allow Sporting KC to win the possession battle, the Union put only two shots on goal in the first half — and none in the first 40 minutes — but they each required exemplary saves from Gruenebaum.
Vincent Nogueria struck a free kick from 20 yards out headed for the upper corner of the net before Gruenebaum made a leaping save. The Sporting KC keeper stoned a close-range attempt Sheanon Williams five minutes later.
That ensured the Union’s counterattack would come up empty before halftime. But it supplied the equalizer after the break.
“We know how they’re going to play. They’re going to come in, bunker in and play for the counter. That’s exactly what they did,” Zusi said. “For one reason or another, we find ourselves in bad situations because we lose the ball in tough spots. It feeds right into the game of their counterattacking. We can only blame ourselves for that.”
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