After most of his teammates had left the stadium, Matt Besler stood in front of his locker last week and answered a series of questions rarely directed at Sporting Kansas City’s captain.
They fixated on a losing streak, repetitive mistakes and defensive blunders. In other words, three topics the club hasn’t encountered much, if at all, over the past two seasons.
“We need to play,” Besler said, “like we’re the defending MLS Cup champions.”
That hasn’t been the response. Not yet.
Sporting KC, once the leaders of the Eastern Conference, takes a three-game losing skid into Saturday’s game against New York — its first such streak since May 2012.
The uncharacteristic losing streak has cost Sporting KC its top spot in the East and shriveled its chances of winning the Supporters’ Shield.
Might it have cost the defending MLS champions some confidence, too?
“Sure. Of course it has. Of course,” coach Peter Vermes said. “When you’re in this situation, you start to question all kinds of stuff. Absolutely. You should.”
Sporting KC broke a league record last month when it started its 30th different lineup in a single MLS season. But the club maneuvered through those inconsistent lineups — brought on by a bevy of injuries and international absences — and entered August ahead of the pace it set last season.
It was an impressive run, but the ride came to a screeching halt with a 3-0 loss to D.C. United on Aug. 23. Vermes said he believes the club is still dealing with the disappointment of that loss — the first of the three-game streak — which knocked Sporting KC out of first place.
“Confidence can go in the snap of a finger,” Vermes said. “But confidence can also come back in the snap of a finger. It just depends on how committed you are. That’s it.”
And that’s been the magic word — commitment — over the past two days.
Vermes reiterated Friday that he didn’t think his club worked hard enough in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution, a match that had a promising start before its disastrous finish. He stressed the need for Sporting KC to return to its taxing, high-pressure style of play that produced a championship last season, regardless of the personnel it has on the field Saturday.
The club embraced that challenge over the first half of the season. It’s striving to get it back and avoid the franchise’s first four-game losing streak since May 2011.
“I don’t think a win is going to solve anything. When you’re committed to what you do, that’s when everything else starts to fall in line,” Vermes said. “You’re rolling the dice (otherwise). That’s what this is all about. It’s all about being committed to what you do. We’ve been very committed for a long time here now.
“Certain things happen over the course of a season, but it’s really about how you respond. And I believe that’s all about commitment.”
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Sporting KC at New York Red Bulls
WHEN/WHERE: 6:30 p.m. Saturday; at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
TV/RADIO: NBC Sports; WHB (810 AM), La Gran D (1340 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC (12-9-6): The club sits four points back of D.C. United in the Eastern Conference. It welcomes Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer back to the lineup after they sat out Wednesday’s match due to yellow-card accumulation.
ABOUT NEW YORK (7-8-10): The Red Bulls have fallen to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with only two wins over their last seven matches. They will be without Tim Cahill on Saturday. He has joined the Australian national team.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite its recent struggles, New York remains tough to beat at home, where it has a 5-2-4 record this season. Sporting KC has won more road matches (seven) than any other team in the conference.
PREDICTION: New York 2, Sporting KC 1