Sporting KC

That’s all she wrote: Sporting KC eliminated from MLS playoff chase at Minnesota

Jan Gregus (8) and Osvaldo Alonso (6) celebrate at the end of Minnesota’s win over Sporting KC.
Jan Gregus (8) and Osvaldo Alonso (6) celebrate at the end of Minnesota’s win over Sporting KC. AP

Sporting Kansas City featured two Hungarians in its starting lineup Wednesday against Minnesota United: winger Daniel Salloi, who scored 16 goals in 2018, and defender Botand Barath, who arrived in Kansas City ahead of the 2019 season.

They’d had a combined 43 appearances and no goals between them this season. The club saw one of the pair break that scoring drought in Minneapolis, but it wasn’t enough as Sporting KC lost 2-1 and was mathematically eliminated from the MLS playoff chase — ending an eight-year run of making the postseason.

“It’s a failure. It’s a complete disappointment,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “It’s not a place where we ever want to be.”

Receiving the ball off a quick corner in the sixth minute, Johnny Russell took a quick touch with his left foot before looking for a Sporting KC player in the box. Whipping in a wicked inward cross toward the six-yard box, Russell’s dangerous cross found a teammate in front of goal.

It all happened within the matter of a couple of seconds, and it was a Hungarian who wheeled away celebrating as the ball nestled in the back of the net. But it wasn’t the Hungarian SKC fans might expect as Barath bagged his first goal in a Sporting kit.

Despite the loss and seemingly inevitable outcome relative to the playoff chase, Barath’s goal highlighted a good performance by the Sporting KC defense.

The makeshift center-back pairing of Barath and defensive midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who was filling in for a suspended Matt Besler, produced a solid performance. But it wasn’t be backed up by their attack-minded teammates.

“Overall we were fantastic (defensively), we really were,” Vermes said. “Defensively we were tremendous; we really, really were. They have a very potent team going forward.”

Barath and Ilie effectively stifled Minnesota’s main goalscorers, as Darwin Quintero was limited to two shots on goal and Mason Toye’s best opportunity was a half-chance that was fired over the bar.

Primary playmaker Jan Gregus was also only limited to corners and freekicks until he managed to grab an assist on Minnesota’s 90th-minute winner.

The inclusion of Ilie in the defense came as a surprise as a healthy Graham Smith sat on the bench. But the Spaniard performed exceptionally. Providing the calmness he typically shows in midfield, Ilie made life easy for goalkeeper Tim Melia for 70 minutes before Sporting KC ceded a pair of late goals.

Having taken early leads in its previous three games before succumbing to losses, Sporting KC needed a full 90-minute performance from its defense. But similar to Sunday’s game against Colorado, the visitors allowed two goals in the final 20 minutes.

It’s the first time since 2014 that Kansas City has lost four games in a row, and it was the 19th goal the team has conceded in the final 15 minutes of a match this season.

As for the group of players who are supposed to be scoring, they came close on multiple occasions but ultimately couldn’t find the back of the net. Despite 23 total shots throughout the game for Kansas City, the only goal they mustered came on Barath’s early effort.

Forward Erik Hurtado missed a chance from point-blank range in the 23rd minute, slotting his shot wide from six yards out. Salloi, Barath’s countryman, sent a shot into the upper deck of Allianz Field in the 53rd minute six minutes after Gianluca Busio sliced a shot off the crossbar.

The chances continued throughout the second half as Hurtado missed a one-on-one; Busio also lost out to Minnesota defender Romain Métanire for the chance to shoot at an open goal.

“We’ve just shot ourselves in the foot because when you miss those chances you play differently, you have to play differently,” Vermes said. “When you’re up 2, 3-0, it’s a different game. It’s a different game for the other team, you’ve broken some spirit.

Sporting KC would come to rue those missed chances as Minnesota tied it in the 70th minute off a corner that was finished by Osvaldo Alonso.

Hassani Dotson scored in the final minutes to extinguish any hope Sporting KC had of stealing a victory on the road. His shot from 14 yards out deflected off Barath before squirming past Melia into the bottom corner.

“As far as play and the way we’ve played in the game and the chances that we’ve created, all of that’s good,” Vermes said. “But it’s not great because it doesn’t get you the three points that you should actually get based on the production.”