The surge into first place will have to wait at least one more week.
Offered the chance to move atop the MLS Western Conference standings Friday night, Sporting Kansas City instead suffered its first loss in a month, a 2-1 defeat against rival Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
For the second time this week, Sporting KC received a highlight-reel goal from midfielder Benny Feilhaber, but Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata buried a second-half penalty kick to hand Sporting KC its first loss since June 21, which also came at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Sporting KC (9-4-6) was playing its third match in seven days.
“It was obvious we were tired (and) we were beat up, but the guys gave a great effort,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview after the match. “We didn’t get the result at the end we wanted, but it was a good fight from the guys. They gave everything they had.
“Everybody was running on fumes during the game.”
Sporting KC finished winless against Real Salt Lake in three regular-season matches — though the two teams will meet in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Aug. 12 at Sporting Park.
To overcome the fatigue Friday, Vermes turned to his most reliable offensive weapon this season: Feilhaber.
While tired legs kept him out of the starting lineup for the first time this season, Feilhaber quickly made an impact. Only five minutes after entering the match as a halftime substitute, he sent a dazzling 25-yard strike into the upper left corner of the net. His seventh goal of the MLS season knotted the score at 1.
Sporting KC couldn’t keep it there.
Real Salt Lake was awarded a penalty kick in the 73rd minute after Sporting KC keeper Tim Melia clipped Olmes Garcia in the penalty box. Melia correctly dived to his right on Plata’s attempt, but Plata was still able to send it into the corner.
Two minutes later, Sporting KC forward Jacob Peterson was stoned by Real Salt Lake keeper Jeff Attinella in an attempt to tie the match. Earlier in the second half, Peterson was alone with Attinella, but Attinella deflected the shot over the crossbar.
“We had two fantastic chances. One of them, we needed to put in,” Vermes said. “It’s unfortunate. We did enough to get some points here today, but we weren’t fresh enough.”
It showed early on.
In the first half alone, Real Salt Lake owned 67 percent of the possession and attempted nine shots compared to just three from Sporting KC.
The home side captured the only goal, too, when Javier Morales weaved through the Sporting KC defense and stepped into the box for a uninhibited shot.
The Sporting KC defense played shorthanded Friday after center back Kevin Ellis did not make the trip with the team. Vermes said Ellis suffered a sprained foot earlier this week, the severity of which would be known after the team returns to Kansas City.
In his absence, Erik Palmer-Brown received his second start of the season.