Sporting KC

Trying to cement a spot atop the West, Sporting KC replies with a dud in Philadelphia

The timing of the rise in the standings loomed perhaps just as important as the move itself. After the late summer in four straight seasons comprised of collapses, Sporting KC used the same stretch in 2018 to move past its MLS Western Conference counterparts. Yes, all of them.

But a slip Sunday opens the door for a reversal.

A short-handed Philadelphia side took advantage of a slow Sporting KC start for a 2-0 victory Sunday in Chester, Pa. Jay Simpson scored a pair of goals.

Even though it lost for just the second time in two months — a span of eight matches — the rocky nature of the Western Conference could move Sporting KC (15-8-6) back into second place as soon as Sunday night, when FC Dallas meets Vancouver. Dallas trails Sporting KC by just one point in the West.

Simpson opened the scoring in the 71st minute Sunday and sealed the game in the 89th minute, but Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes was left thinking more about the chances his own team failed to convert.

“I thought we played well enough to actually get points,” Vermes said in a phone interview after the match. “At the end, the score doesn’t necessarily signify what happened in the game. But it is what it is. It’s just one of those games.”

It wasn’t exactly an energetic start from Sporting KC, the better team with a more complete lineup. Philadelphia (14-12-4) rested a handful of key players ahead of Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup championship match against Houston.

Yet it was the Union who placed the prime chances on goal, particularly in the opening half, a 45 minutes that finished scoreless with the aid of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia and defender Seth Sinovic, who cleared one chance from Simpson off the goal line.

Sporting KC had one tantalizing opportunity in each half, only to come up empty each time. In the first, that chance fell to winger Gerso Fernandes, who scored twice in a victory in San Jose eight days earlier. Fernandes made a run into the box, took a touch past the keeper and then sailed an angled shot into the side netting, missing an open goal. He buried his head into the field in frustration.

With the game still scoreless after halftime, Sporting KC midfielder Felipe Gutierrez put a header on frame toward the far post. Philadelphia keeper John McCarthy made a sprawling save to preserve his shutout. He made six saves in the game.

“You could see it at the end — we weren’t scoring today for some reason,” Vermes said.

Krisztian Nemeth received a second consecutive start atop the Sporting KC 4-3-3 formation. The striker depth chart could fluctuate over the final month of the season, with difficult choices for Vermes, but the decision was made for him Sunday with the injury report. Forwards Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton both sat because of knee injuries.

Sporting KC returns home to Children’s Mercy Park next Sunday, a date with rival Real Salt Lake.

Sam McDowell

Sam McDowell covers Sporting Kansas City, the Royals, Chiefs and sports enterprise for The Star