Sporting KC

Sporting KC strikes early but settles for 1-1 draw in Columbus

Sporting KC fans supported their team on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
Sporting KC fans supported their team on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. Twitter

The best defensive team in Major League Soccer arrived this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, without any offensive prosperity away from home.

The scoring drought was a tad longer than 200 minutes, but in reality, Sporting Kansas City’s offensive road woes had stretched over most of the 2017 season.

Cristian Lobato needed only 19 minutes to end the drought Sunday.

The aforementioned best defense in MLS didn’t make it stand.

Lobato scored his first career MLS goal, but Sporting KC settled for a 1-1 draw in Columbus early Sunday afternoon.

“We played well enough to get three points,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the match. “I just don’t think we managed the game well enough in the first half.”

In the congested Western Conference, Sporting KC still picked up a vital point, moving up to third place in the standings.

The team departed Ohio feeling it could have had more. Lobato opened the scoring in the 19th minute — just the club’s seventh road goal in 14 matches this season — before Columbus striker Ola Kamara tied it moments before the halftime whistle.

Kamara’s goal followed a series of corner kicks by Columbus, sparking Vermes’ comments about mismanaging the conclusion of the half.

Sporting KC acquired Lobato in June, and he has earned more playing time than perhaps even the club envisioned. Thought to be a potential depth piece at five positions, Lobato, 28, has started three consecutive matches on the right wing, a spot that allows him to break through with his dominant left foot and charge toward the goal.

But that wasn’t the formula that triggered the first goal of his MLS career.

Sporting KC captain Matt Besler set that up with a quick restart, catching the Columbus defense napping. From his own end, Besler lofted a pass to Lobato, who streaked through a stagnant back line, collected the pass on his left foot and slid a shot across the goal line.

“He makes that run almost flawlessly,” Vermes said. “Great heads up by (Besler) to actually play it. Great finish from (Lobato), being very calm. All that was good.”

What followed? Not so much.

The lead didn’t make it to halftime. Kamara beat the Sporting KC defense to a corner kick, and his header darted past goalkeeper Tim Melia moments before the halftime whistle. It was all that beat Melia, who stood tall on multiple chances in the second half to preserve the draw.

Mixed between those saves, Sporting KC had a pair of opportunities to regain the lead and failed to place a shot in a dangerous area.

“There’s no doubt there were two other really, really good chances — high quality (chances) that you should score,” Vermes said.

Besler and Graham Zusi returned to the Sporting KC lineup after spending the previous two weeks with the United States men’s national team.

Sporting KC returns to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday for the first time in nearly a month when it plays host to the New England Revolution at 7:30 p.m.