Sporting Kansas City fans have had their hands hovering over the panic button over the last month, amid a three-game losing streak and a lackluster draw that set up a major showdown on national TV on Sunday night in Orlando, Fla.
Needing a win to keep their Supporters Shield aspirations in reach and overarching concerns at bay, Sporting was blitzed by an Orlando City SC side that hadn’t won in six previous tries, falling 3-1 in unconvincing fashion.
It’s safe to say the cover is now off of the panic button, and many are beginning to press it, haunted by the slow demise that plagued Sporting KC last season.
Here’s what stood out in Sunday’s defeat:
1. Sporting KC is struggling to maintain its identity
Peter Vermes has made a living on a 4-3-3 system that understands when to push forward and when to transition back. Over the last month, Sporting KC hasn’t been able to find that sweet spot, which has consequently led to inconsistencies across the board.
At times, Sporting KC has been caught too far out on the front foot. Such was the case on Aug. 12 in U.S. Open Cup action against Real Salt Lake, when Sporting KC’s intensity led to an opening for an Olmes Garcia goal.
Other times, though, Sporting KC has been far too reactionary, a la Sunday night in Orlando when the home side went up a goal within five minutes on an unmarked header. Or in the second half on both Orlando City SC tallies. Instead of keeping their defensive shape, Sporting KC was reeling to react to the oncoming attack.
Either spectrum lends itself to chaos. And chaos in MLS leads to goals.
2. Lack of urgency late
Vermes didn’t shy away from the fact Sporting KC’s winless streak has stretched to five games.
“We need to wake up,” he said, “very quickly.”
With 15 minutes to play on Sunday, Sporting KC found themselves down two goals, though you wouldn’t have been able to tell had it not been for the scoreboard.
Certainly Orlando City SC’s third goal took the wind out of Sporting KC’s sails a bit, but the visitors seemed disinterested at times to try for a comeback. Effort wasn’t the issue by any stretch of the imagination, but when newcomer Jordi Quintilla’s rocket from 25 yards out is the lone attempt on goal in the final 10 minutes, something isn’t right.
In September, with teams jockeying for playoff positioning, that cannot happen.
Sporting KC has seven games remaining. With the San Jose Earthquakes steamrolling their way up the Western Conference standings, Sporting KC is by no means a lock for the playoffs. If and when – because it is MLS – they fall behind to teams, Sporting KC needs to be able to show urgency to produce results.
The good news for fans is that the team has shown they can do just that, against Philadelphia earlier in the season and more recently against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Aug. 15.
3. Krisztian Nemeth continues his impressive season
Nemeth scored his ninth goal of the regular season on Sunday night, scorching a shot into the upper 90 to even the match temporarily at 1-1.
MLS teams don’t scout Nemeth, apparently, because we’ve seen this goal a few times from him already this season, where he takes his touch to the inside to set up a shot on his stronger foot.
Nemeth is a class payer with the uncanny ability to take on two or three defenders without losing the ball, so it’s understandable why defenders sag off as to not get torched by him. However, when teams allow him the space and time to set up a shot on his right foot, he’ll find the back of the net more times than not.
And I’d be willing to bet Sporting KC fans are just fine with that.