The makings of a winless streak require a combination of misfortunes. Of bad breaks. Of injuries. And just plain subpar play. Sporting Kansas City has navigated one of five-plus games in every season since its 2013 MLS Cup, stretches when just nothing seems to go right.
On Saturday, it went right for 93 minutes.
Then came the gut punch.
Vancouver scored in the 94th minute to draw level with Sporting KC and eke out a 1-1 draw at Children’s Mercy Park, extending Sporting’s winless streak to nine matches.
“It’s obvious frustration,” midfielder Kelyn Rowe said. “You could see it in everyone’s face after the game.
“We played really well for 93 minutes. And then the last 30 seconds killed us.”
The winless streak was within 100 seconds of concluding. In the most unlikely of circumstances, at that.
Sporting KC (2-4-5) showed the best version of itself in more than seven weeks — and to a man, they voiced that belief in the post-game locker room. They grabbed a one-goal lead that probably could have been two or three.
Then? The setback. Krisztian Nemeth was ejected in the 51st minute for a late challenge in the middle of the field, prompting Sporting to protect for 40 minutes.
They were up for the challenge. At least initially. But Vancouver — which also fell to 10 men after an injury in the 74th minute when they had already exhausted all three subs — finally broke through in the 94th minute. Derek Cornelius found space in the middle of the penalty area for a volley.
“The goal at the end is a lucky break for them because they didn’t deserve to get a point leaving here,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “At the end, I love the progression we made from the last three to four games. Every game we get better. I’m very proud of the guys and their work tonight.”
Even so, Sporting KC still has not claimed victory since March 30, a stretch of nine matches, seven of them in MLS play and two of them sealing their CONCACAF Champions League fate last month.
Nemeth took the game-changing exit in the 51st minute, a deserved ejection for a studs-up and late challenge on Felipe. Nemeth seemed to know the card was coming, pleading with referee Timothy Ford before Ford reached into his pocket.
“I tried to step in front of him, (but) I touched him,” said Nemeth, who will be forced to sit out next weekend’s match with Seattle. “It was an unlucky situation.”
Nemeth made an impact before the departure. Benny Feilhaber sprung Johnny Russell loose inside the right flank to set up the game’s opening goal in the 37th minute. Russell’s initial shot was stopped, the ball bouncing to Nemeth. He took a touch to put the ball on his right foot and easily tapped it in. Feilhaber, playing in his first home game since Sporting re-acquired him in a trade with the Colorado Rapids this month, didn’t reach the stat sheet on the play, but his pass ignited the jump.
Nemeth has seven goals in 10 league starts, the latest helping Sporting to its first halftime lead in five MLS matches. The tally broke a 223-minute scoreless streak — Sporting was shut out in back-to-back losses to D.C. United and Atlanta United.
“We played well tonight — everyone wanted the ball,” said captain Matt Besler, who returned from a hamstring injury for his first appearance in four weeks. “We moved well off the ball; we passed well; we created chances; we defended well. When you look at all those aspects, that’s usually a recipe for success and three points. So the frustration comes from not achieving that.”
Besler’s return offered a long-awaited calmness to a Sporting KC defense that couldn’t be described as that for the last month. It was something of a return to normalcy, even if the last goal did arrive just before the final whistle.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia, kept plenty busy during the winless streak, faced only one shot when the teams were even strength. He made two saves in the game.
Besler returned, but Sporting still played without Graham Zusi (oblique), Roger Espinoza (knee), Gerso Fernandes (wrist), Daniel Salloi (groin), Andreu Fontas (calf), Jaylin Lindsey (knee), Rodney Wallace (hip) and Erik Hurtado (knee).
And for 93 minutes, it marched on without them just fine. The final two changed the outcome — though not necessarily the outlook.
“I’m extremely proud of the way we battled in that game,” Melia said. “If we built off that a little bit, the results are gonna start to come.”