The initial meeting, on the coast of California, advertised the best talent the Western Conference had to offer. Two teams that analysts billed among the league’s best — Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles FC — backed it up on the season’s opening night, in front of national TV audience, to boot.
One kept moving along, the pacesetters of a historic season.
The other? Marching toward history of a different kind.
LAFC blasted Sporting KC on its home field Wednesday, a 5-1 victory that provided cement to Sporting’s place in the conference cellar.
Sporting KC (4-7-7) is six points back of the playoff line, by far its biggest deficit this late in the season in the Children’s Mercy Park era.
“We can’t lose games 5-1 at home and expect to be a playoff team — that’s just unacceptable,” defender Seth Sinovic said. “We can talk about how we’re playing better and working hard, but it’s just not good enough.”
In the closing moments, after his penalty kick try went awry, forward Daniel Salloi took his shirt and covered his face, a fitting frame of a night and season in which so little has gone right.
Sporting KC owns just three wins from its nine home games, progressing toward the franchise’s worst record mark inside Children’s Mercy Park since the venue opened in 2011. With the season now more half-completed, Sporting has just one win against its conference opponents all season.
It’s all bad. All atypical of a team that has qualified for the playoffs in eight straight seasons, a streak that looks increasingly unlikely to continue to a ninth. Which was accentuated so perfectly in front of a sold-out home crowd that spattered boos before night’s end.
“It’s a difficult moment right now for everybody — for players, coaches, support staff, fans, everybody,” captain Matt Besler said. “We’re just as frustrated, if not more, than anybody, because we have to live through it every single day and think about it nonstop. We show up to the training ground, and we try to get better every single day, and so I can tell you the frustration is there. I wish I had the answers.”
The initial five minutes provided a glimmer of hope against the league’s best team, but Sporting KC failed to convert quality chances in front of goal. And then LAFC’s talent reined supreme.
Every member of the LAFC front line — striker Christian Ramirez and wingers Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela — scored a goal, the latter two a product of individual effort simply lacking in the buildup on the other end of the field. The initial came on a free kick in which Ramirez actually snuck the ball underneath the wall in front, every member of it jumping in the air to prevent a bender over the top.
Yohan Croizet finally responded to break the shutout in the 85th minute, three minutes after Salloi missed his penalty, but it was far too little and far too late. And LAFC’s onslaught wasn’t done, either. Rodolfo Zelaya and Mohamed El-Munir added two more, dribbling through the center of the field absent pushback.
The sum: Sporting KC’s worst home loss since 2015.
“You always want to try to find the positive, but you also have to face the facts,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “The fact is you created chances and you didn’t score them. You also gave away goals that also are our fault.
“... The positive is we played well for good parts of the game, especially the first half. But for the high-quality chances that we created, to not score, that puts a damper on the guys. Their confidence drops, and that’s what happens.
“But you know what? We gotta get over it.”