The first sign of distress arrived a couple of weeks ago, Sporting Kansas City falling out of the form that propelled it to the top of the Western Conference. There was conviction within the team that a midseason reset could be beneficial in the long run, that it could serve as a reminder of the concentration required for a full MLS season.
In kind, the outing Saturday was more polished. But the final result left the night unfulfilled.
Sporting KC settled for a 2-2 draw Saturday with Toronto FC after it relinquished a second-half lead on its home field.
In a string of three matches in seven days, Sporting KC (9-4-6) finished with only one point and fell from the top spot in the West. But its performance Saturday in front of a crowd of 21,064 at Children’s Mercy Park comprised more purpose than the back-to-back losses in Montreal and Real Salt Lake that preceded it.
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“When you’re in a little bit of a rough stretch like we are — and we’re aware of that — the individual results can’t be the only focal point,” Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia said. “We performed well tonight. We need to look at the positive side of that. We’ll take that confidence into the next game.”
Still, a shorthanded lineup was on the verge of securing all three points. Playing without four starters, Sporting KC flipped a one-goal halftime deficit into a 2-1 lead in a span of four minutes. But Toronto FC, the defending MLS champion that is sitting second to last in the Eastern Conference, pounced on a giveaway in the center of the field for an equalizer in the 69th minute.
As a result, Sporting KC was left praising its effort — not the outcome.
“It would’ve been easy for the guys to stick their heads in the sand after the last two results, but as I told them, we’re a good team,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We just need to go through a little adversity at the moment. We gotta fight through it.”
Sporting KC has not won since June 23, a victory against Houston in which it scored three goals after halftime to complete a comeback.
Sporting opted for the comeback route once more Saturday; it just failed to make it stick. Ilie Sanchez scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute after Gerso Fernandes drew a foul in the penalty box, and Johnny Russell tallied his first MLS goal in more than three months only four minutes later.
From 25 yards out, Toronto FC forward Jordan Hamilton leveled the match in the 69th minute, moments after Wan Kuzain was dispossessed, a play in which his teammates argued for a foul.
“I thought we were good defensively. We only gave away two opportunities,” Melia said. “I need to do way better on the second goal. I just mistimed the ball.”
In its third match in a week, Sporting KC was without Roger Espinoza and Daniel Salloi, who served one-game suspensions after ejections from Wednesday’s match against Real Salt Lake. Both will be in line to return next Saturday, when the club travels to face the New York Red Bulls. Felipe Gutierrez, the owner of five goals in his first five MLS matches before undergoing sports hernia surgery, is also nearing a return.
When Sporting KC makes that trip, it will be looking up at FC Dallas.
“In my opinion, it was a (disappointment) not to get a win tonight,” Sanchez said. “We need to be happy with how we played, but we’re also not relaxed. We know what we’re doing well, but we know what we need to improve to get our best performance moving forward.”