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Despite slump, no time for Sporting KC to panic

08/24/2013 9:57 AM

08/24/2013 1:34 PM

Sporting Kansas City has lost four of five games since escaping Rio Tinto on July 20 with a last-second victory.

That could have been a watershed win as Sporting KC surged to the second Supporters’ Shield in club history.

And it still might be, but at the moment it’s beginning to look more like a high-water mark.

Fan consternation seems to be bubbling over and understandably so after dropping consecutive games twice sandwiched around a thorough 3-0 beating of New England.

It started with a last-second loss at Montreal followed by a disappointing home loss to New York that saw the defense cough up three goals.

Next came the win against the Revs, but a controversial loss at San Jose and Friday’s disappointing result at Toyota Park have dulled that luster.

Of course, nobody understands the need to play better more than Sporting KC.

“The guys have to step up and start understanding that on every play and every roll of the ball, you’ve got to be locked in, concentrated and ready to go,” manager Peter Vermes said after the 1-0 loss to the Fire. “Every game is a playoff game. We don’t do that. Until we start doing that, we’re going to keep finding a tough road ahead.”

For the moment, Sporting KC, which has won the last two Eastern Conference regular-season crowns, remains in first place in the Eastern Conference. That’s likely to change before the weekend’s up.

But the sky isn’t falling folks.

Teams go through rough stretches, and three of the four losses during the current funky stretch have come on the road.

While it is true enough that Sporting KC hasn’t been as dominant at home this season, Sporting Park remains a tough place to play and will only become more daunting as the intensity of a playoff chase ramps up.

Besides, among the top six teams in the Eastern Conference, only the Red Bulls have a softer schedule the rest of the way. Unless there is a rash of season-ending injuries, it would take an epic — though not impossible collapse — for this team to miss the playoffs.

Remember, the club played without its motor, midfielder Graham Zusi, for three games in that stretch. He was good but not great against Chicago in his return to action, but he’ll regain the form that made him an MLS MVP finalist and rising star for the U.S. men’s national team soon enough.

Kei Kamara was out at Chicago and surely could have been a difference-maker as much possession and as many chances as Sporting KC had.

Say what you will about Paulo Nagamura, who struggled at times during the first few months of the season, but he’s an upgrade in the middle of the park over Peterson Joseph when (OK, at this point “if”) he returns.

That should happen soon.

For me, the only real concern is a defense that leaks far too many easy goals. The Fire deserved at least one more Friday night. Only Chris Rolfe’s selfishness and lack of finishing quality kept the score at 1-0.

Chance Myers has been caught out too many times. Same thing with Aurelien Collin.

It’s not always either one’s fault, but, especially with Myers, it has been happening consistently enough that an adjustment needs to be made and soon.

I suspect it will happen. If I notice it, Peter Vermes and is staff do too. Having Zusi and eventually Nagamura back will help.

Bottom line, though, now is no time to panic.

FYI — Montreal hosts Houston on Saturday, while Philadelphia is at New England on Sunday and New York is at Chivas USA.

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