Sporting KC

‘We didn’t have spirit.’ Mistake-prone Sporting KC falls at Real Salt Lake

Sporting KC captain Matt Besler is optimistic about 2019

Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler, the franchise's all-time leader in games played, previews the 2019 season.
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Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler, the franchise's all-time leader in games played, previews the 2019 season.

The occupancy in Sporting KC’s penalty area filled with red shirts, Real Salt Lake players gathering in front of goalkeeper Tim Melia in an overwhelming ratio. An odd-man break produced such considerable time and options that one RSL player swiped the ball off the foot of another, still splashing the back of the net with nary any defensive pushback.

In one sequence, it offered a fitting picture of Sporting’s night on the road.

Real Salt Lake pounced on a mistake-prone Sporting KC, pulling away early for a 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Sam Johnson scored a first-half brace for the difference.

“We didn’t have life. We didn’t have any spirit,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “The other team deserved three points — we didn’t.”

After generating results from the initial three matches of a rare month-long road excursion, Sporting KC earned — and deserved — none from its last. And so as it awakes Sunday morning, Sporting (4-6-7) will sit tied for 10th place in the 12-team Western Conference.

An opportunity to creep above the playoff line fell short with a blunted attack and a couple of mistakes in the defense. The former detail prompted Vermes to bench striker Krisztian Nemeth at halftime in favor of reserve Yohan Croizet.

“There was no work being done there, so I was trying to bring somebody else in that was going to give us the work,” Vermes said when asked about it after the match.

By the time three second-half substitutions entered, the damage was done. The two-goal halftime deficit arrived as the direct consequence of Sporting KC mistakes. Johnson pounced on a ball in the 15th minute that RSL knocked around the penalty area in the aftermath of a corner kick.

Johnson beat midfielder Gedion Zelalem, starting for the second time this season, to the ball in front of goal.

“Everybody should be coming off the back line there,” Vermes said. “We didn’t get off the back line, kept guys onside, didn’t win the ball. They won the first ball, the second ball, the third ball.”

A quarter-hour later, Johnson finished the 4-on-1 break after a ball hopped over Matt Besler’s foot in possession, and with Sporting pushing numbers forward, only Botond Barath remained behind the ball. Far from enough manpower to halt the break. Melia slipped trying to cover the reverse pass in front but didn’t stand much of a chance regardless.

Melia’s best save of the night came in the 80th minute — a ball directed toward goal off the foot of Besler, who had accidentally tapped his clearance attempt into Melia’s gut.

The final image of five weeks on the road.

Sporting returns to Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday for the first time in 36 days, prepared to host two matches there in four days. It will play host to first-place Los Angeles FC, a team on pace to break the league’s overall points record, before the Chicago Fire visits on Saturday.

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