The extended stay atop the Western Conference standings has stemmed from Sporting Kansas City’s results outside its home venue. Because for all of its success at Children’s Mercy Park last year, it still finished only fifth in the West.
A potent, capable offensive attack on the road had changed that outlook in 2018. But a reversion to old ways arrived Saturday.
New England shut out Sporting KC 1-0 on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., handing the club its first loss since opening night.
Sporting KC (5-2-2) remained in first in the West.
“I think we did enough to get out of here with a point — that would be my summation of the game,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview afterward. “Unfortunately, that goal is one of those things. I don’t even know what to say about it to be honest with you.”
An attempt at an explanation ...
The goal materialized to the surprise of nearly everyone involved in the play. New England forward Teal Bunbury collected the ball in an apparent offside position, which he recognized and thus softly tapped the ball into the net nonchalantly. After seeing the linesman’s flag raised, Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia responded with a half-hearted effort for a save.
But a replay showed that Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza had toe-tapped the ball to Bunbury — rather than a New England pass setting up the goal— making the offside position irrelevant. The goal counted.
Sporting KC captain Matt Besler argued before simply putting his face in his two hands in frustration. New England coach Brad Friedel shrugged his shoulders with a wry smile after the referee pointed to count Bunbury’s fourth goal of the season.
“The problem is all the players stopped. They know when the referee’s flag goes up,” Vermes said. “The lineman’s flag goes up, and everybody basically stops. That’s the difficulty.”
It was a correct ruling by the video replay assistance rules, as long as the referee did not blow the whistle. But it standing as the game’s only goal made it difficult for Sporting KC to absorb.
In any event, Sporting KC did not particularly threaten to even the match. Its first road shutout — and first road defeat — was responsible for ending a seven-match unbeaten streak.
Sporting KC was held to four shots on goal — and only one after halftime. New England goalkeeper Matt Turner did not need to make considerable effort for his clean sheet. Perhaps the best scoring chance came only 8 seconds into the match, an effort from midfielder Yohan Croizet that Turner tossed aside.
It was an atypical performance for a Sporting KC team that leads the Western Conference with 20 goals this season. It had not been shut out since its season-opening loss to New York City FC.