Thirty-five days ago, Sporting Kansas City embraced its role as the standard-bearer for MLS. It stood as the final survivor in Champions League. Its high-flying attack had just recorded the largest output in Children’s Mercy Park history.
But that’s all a long, long time ago now.
Because on Sunday night, that club was hardly recognizable. In its lineup. In its performance. And most certainly — and importantly — in the outcome.
Atlanta is the latest team to take control of a reeling Sporting KC team, handing it a 3-0 defeat on its home field in front of crowd of 18,518 and a national-TV audience.
Sporting KC has gone more than a month without a victory, a 35-day stretch covering seven matches, four of them at home.
“We’re (neither) the same team (as a month ago) or the team we want to be,” midfielder Ilie Sanchez said. “We’re not doing the right things. We need to know why and change them.”
The once-fortress of Children’s Mercy Park has become consistently penetrable for opponents. Sporting (2-3-4) has won only two of its five home MLS matches.
On Sunday, it wasn’t even particularly close.
It was Josef Martinez in the 39th minute, Ezequiel Barco in the 47th and Martinez once more in the 76th minute. The damage: a rout every bit indicative of the play on the field. Atlanta, the defending MLS Cup champions, held 55.1 percent of the possession and unleashed 19 shots, eight of them on goal. Sporting, meanwhile, went more than an hour without a shot on goal. It finished with just three.
A lineup absent five starters — Matt Besler, Sanchez (whose calf injury limited him to a substitute role), Roger Espinoza, Andreu Fontas and Gerso Fernandes — certainly played its part, but the final product from Sporting KC was disjointed and uncharacteristic in its approach. The club has allowed 24 goals over the past 7 matches across all competitions. Five straight opponents have scored multiple goals.
“We have got to keep working. I don’t have another solution,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “It’s nothing we can change. It’s not like we can go, ‘You know what? These guys didn’t work, so we’re changing to these other guys.’ We just don’t have the bodies. So we’ve got to keep working and getting these guys better and better. We have to keep trying to stay alive. That’s just the way it is.”
When it awakes Monday morning, Sporting KC will be ahead of just two teams in the Western Conference.
It changed its defensive shape Sunday, which Vermes said was a combination of Atlanta’s offense and Sporting’s available personnel. It ignored its usual high-press, instead content to allow Atlanta to take possession and move the ball along its back line. Atlanta held 60 percent of the possession before Martinez opened the scoring in the 39th minute.
After a month of defensive miscues, the first goal arrived after a goalkeeping error. Tim Melia failed to corral the initial shot from distance, allowing the ball to plop six yards in front of goal. Martinez pounced for an easy rebound.
So it went.
“We’re obviously frustrated with results. For the guys like myself and Graham (Zusi) and a few of the other guys that have been here for awhile and that have experience, not only with the club but professionally as well, I think it’s on us to bring other guys along and give them that confidence,” defender Seth Sinovic said. “This stretch is on us, especially when we have other experienced guys out for a long time. It’s on us to step up. We gotta be better leaders than we’ve been so far.”