A Major League Soccer two-week hiatus arrived in early June, and for Sporting Kansas City, it provided a much-needed break. The club had fallen to eighth place in the Western Conference standings only a day earlier, a product of its inability to win on its home field.
But over the ensuing six weeks after the league resumed play, Sporting shifted its focus to returning Children’s Mercy Park to a fearsome venue. It welcomed five opponents inside the stadium, rattling off a series of victories to fortify its case for the postseason.
The most significant upturn came Sunday.
Sporting won its fifth straight home match, defeating MLS defending-champion Portland 1-0 in front of 19,098 fans at Children’s Mercy Park.
The victory against the Timbers — who entered the weekend one point shy of a playoff spot in the West — supplied Sporting with a five-point cushion in the playoff race.
“This has always been a tough place to play — with the noise, the crowd, But now we’re getting the results to back it up,” Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber said.
Jacob Peterson scored the game’s only goal in the 50th minute — in other words, 19 minutes after he was set to be removed from the match. Portland forward Jack McInerney clipped the crossbar in the first minute of stoppage time, a shot that could have tied the match.
A collision at midfield left Peterson hobbled midway through the first half, and he walked gingerly toward the sideline as Sporting coach Peter Vermes motioned for Cameron Porter to put on his jersey. The public address announcer even verbalized the substitution.
But Peterson elected to stay in the match — an then he changed the course of it. In the 50th minute, Benny Feilhaber lined up a free kick, and Peterson got his head on the other end of it. Peterson scored in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006.
“It was a good ball in. I just had to flick it in,” Peterson said.
It was enough for victory, despite Sporting missing starting goalkeeper Tim Melia. After Melia experienced back spasms in practice late last week, the club turned to Alec Kann for his second start of the season.
Kann responded with his first career shutout, and his only save — an 11th-minute diving stop against Darlington Nagbe — supplied an important moment in the match.
“I felt very prepared and confident,” Kann said. “I have played a couple of games with (the Swope Park Rangers) in the past couple of weeks, which has been a nice way to stay sharp.”
Sporting squandered a bevy of opportunities to add to its lead — with Lawrence Olum, Dom Dwyer and Connor Hallisey nearly tacking one on. Portland keeper Jake Gleeson was up for the challenge and made five saves, all of them after halftime.
Sporting center back Ike Opara was removed from the match late into the second half. He took an elbow to the chin earlier in the half, which drew blood. After attempting to stay in the match, the wound re-opened, and Chance Myers replaced him. Opara said after the match he was fine.
Sporting supplied Vermes with his 100th career MLS regular season victory. More importantly, it was the fifth straight at home — after the club started the season 3-4-1 at Children’s Mercy Park.
“We take a lot of pride in playing at home,” Dwyer said. “It hurt when we weren’t doing great. But we’re starting to find our feet a bit. We’re grinding out results.”
In seven days, Sporting will make the return trip to Portland to face the Timbers for the second consecutive weekend. With the addition of its CONCACAF Champions League schedule, Sporting will play six matches in August, all of them in a 21-day span.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY 1
Sporting Kansas City
PORTLAND: Jake Gleeson; Alvas Powell (Jack Barmby, 88th), Amobi Okugo, Jermaine Taylor, Zarek Valentin (Vytautas Andriuskevicius, 69th); Ben Zemanski (Jack McInerney, 75th), Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Lucas, Melano; Fanendo Adi.
KANSAS CITY: Alec Kann; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Lawrence Olum, Ike Opara (Chance Myers, 94th), Jimmy Medranda; Benny Feilhaber, Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza; Connor Hallisey (Kevin Ellis, 93rd), Dominic Dwyer, Jacob Peterson (Cameron Porter, 71st).
Kansas City: 1, Jacob Peterson, 3 (Benny Feilhaber), 50th minute.
Shots on goal
Portland: Fanendo Adi, 10th minute; Jermaine Taylor, 74th; Diego Charra, 86th.
Kansas City: Jimmy Medranda, 72nd minute; Roger Espinosa, 87th.
Kansas City: None.
Referee: Ricardo Salazar.
Assistant referee: Peter Balciunas.
Assistant referee: Cameron Blanchard.
4th official: Sorin Stoica.
Announced attendance: 19,098.