In less than two weeks, Sporting Kansas City will return to the postseason and begin its defense of the 2013 MLS championship.
The path back to the MLS Cup, however, may have just become a bit more difficult.
Philadelphia handed Sporting KC a 2-1 defeat Saturday at PPL Park in Chester, Penn., preventing the defending champions from pulling even with New England for second place in the East.
Instead, they moved into a vulnerable position with only one regular-season match remaining. Sporting KC could drop to fourth place by the end of the weekend — a seeding that would result in playing in the one-and-done knockout round.
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A pair of giveaways put Sporting KC on the uneasy ground. Philadelphia forward Brian Brown scored in the waning moments of the first half after Lawrence Olum lost the ball in the midfield, and Pedro Ribeiro provided the game-winner in the 71st minute after Seth Sinovic turned the ball over in the defensive half.
“That’s both goals. Both (are) situations where we’re giving the ball away (in a bad) area of the field,” coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “That led to both goals. That’s where we usually turn people over, but we got turned over.”
That changed the momentum of a second half that had previously swung in Sporting Kansas City’s favor when Dom Dwyer scored his 22nd goal, tying the match in the 54th minute. Dwyer successfully converted a penalty kick after Soony Saad was tackled in the box by Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Sporting KC played without captain Matt Besler and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, both of whom suffered leg injuries this week and did not travel with the team. Besler sustained a right hamstring contusion while playing with the United States men’s national team Tuesday in an international friendly against Honduras. There is no timetable for his return.
Vermes also opted to hold out midfielder Graham Zusi, who played 64 minutes in the U.S. match.
“I just think those guys, unfortunately, shouldn’t have gone into the last game,” Vermes said. “I said that before (the game). I think that easily could’ve been guys that haven’t been to the World Cup. Our guys have been overtrained and overplayed and over-everything.”
Without Gruenebaum, Sporting KC turned to Eric Kronberg, who opened the season as the No. 1 keeper — and started the first 17 matches — before a hand injury cost him two months of action and his starting job.
Kronberg has lost both matches since returning from the injury, though he didn’t have much of a chance to stop either goal Saturday. Brown and Ribeiro were standing only a few feet from target when they found the back of the net.
“He did a good job. He made a couple of really big saves,” Vermes said of Kronberg.
His role going forward is uncertain, Vermes said, who called Gruenebaum’s injury day-to-day.
Sporting KC travels to Costa Rica on Thursday to close out the CONCACAF Champions League group play. It can clinch the group with at least a tie.
That will be an enticing precursor to the club’s final MLS regular-season match. Sporting KC plays host to New York next Sunday in a game that will weigh heavily into postseason seeding.