The fault-finding appropriately settled on the poor conversion rate in front of goal, with Sporting Kansas City coaches and players alike pointing toward an alarming trend when explaining their standing below the playoff line. So on Wednesday, they tried something new. A different look. A different lineup. Something to change the direction.
Same old result.
Sporting KC’s dwindling playoff chances narrowed even further Wednesday, the club suffering a 1-0 loss at Orlando City SC. Tesho Akindele scored the lone goal in the 21st minute.
In a battle against time, Sporting is running thin on it. Even thinner now. Sporting KC (7-11-7) remained eight points behind the final Western Conference playoff spot. Only nine games are left on the schedule, a heavy dose of conference opponents on the horizon.
“It’s obviously paramount that we start racking up some points and start getting some results,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the game. “I think everybody already knows it. There’s not much I can say at this moment.”
As the stretch run approaches, Sporting is still attempting to shed its primary problem over the last several weeks: Converting top chances into goals. While the offense was mostly quiet Wednesday, particularly in a dull first half, Roger Espinoza picked out a perfect Benny Feilhaber run in the 83rd minute. Feilhaber missed the target.
Some advanced metrics — most notably expected goals — prove Sporting KC’s created chances and actual goals don’t correlate. The attempted solution Wednesday settled on new personnel, partly by necessity with one suspension and a couple of injuries, and partly by choice.
Jimmy Medranda made his first career start at center forward, occupying a “false 9” role, though Erik Hurtado replaced him at halftime. Gianluca Busio started on the wing for the first time in his young career.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their unfamiliarity in those positions, Sporting showed little cohesion in the final third, slow play preventing the effectiveness of runs behind the back line.
“We have to rotate our lineup around because we have a lot of guys that are either out injured or not fully fit,” Vermes said. “We have to move the group around. ... We had to makeshift it a little bit.”
Orlando City countered with familiarity. The second-leading goal scorer in Sporting history, Dom Dwyer, started at striker. He missed a clear-cut chance only 2 minutes into the game.
Thus, Orlando used a different combination to open the scoring. To complete an extended spell of possession, Carlos Ascues slid a pass to Akindele who stuck inside the near post for his ninth goal of the season, extending his career-high.
Orlando responded with 70 minutes of sitting behind the ball, protecting the lead.
“I don’t think that we were dangerous in the first half, but in the second half we were much more direct going to their goal,” Vermes said. “Unfortunately we didn’t put the chances away. We had them. We created them. They’re right there. We’re not putting them away.”
Sporting played without winger Daniel Salloi, who picked up a red card Saturday and served a one-game suspension Wednesday, the fifth straight game a Sporting player sat with a card suspension. Feilhaber, Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez and Ilie Sanchez missed previous games.
Luis Martins made his Sporting debut, subbing in for Seth Sinovic midway through the second half. A 27-year-old Portuguese left back, Martins signed with the club earlier this month.