Three days after Sporting Kansas City learned it will be without its top offseason acquisition for the next 10 weeks, the club traveled to Toronto FC and promptly lost another one of its All-Star players to an injury during warmups.
And then Sporting won without them.
Utilizing a shorthanded lineup, Sporting KC marched into BMO Field and outmuscled Toronto FC, the league’s top-scoring team, for a 3-1 victory Saturday. Its third road win of the season came without Roger Espinoza (fractured left foot) and Graham Zusi, who injured his calf during pregame drills and watched the game from the bench.
“We had to weather a few situations, but that’s the game sometimes,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “The guys — their attitude, their determination, their fight — were fantastic.”
Sporting KC, 10-4-7, applied first-half goals from its usual suspects — Benny Feilhaber and Krisztian Nemeth — and a late one from Jacob Peterson to offset a dynamic Toronto FC offense.
Well, actually a makeshift defense took care of the latter.
Jimmy Medranda made his first career start on the back line — and his first MLS appearance since May 23. He started at left outside defender, joining captain Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis and Chance Myers to construct a defense that limited Toronto FC to a first-half goal from captain Michael Bradley.
“For me, there are three guys that were just unbelievable — Kevin Ellis, Jimmy Medranda and Jake Peterson,” said Vermes, who tied Bob Gansler for the most coaching wins in Sporting KC history with 86. “Their desire to compete for everything was just tremendous. It was incredible.”
Peterson received an opportunity to start atop the formation Saturday with striker Dom Dwyer serving a one-match suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
Even without some of its top offensive weapons, Sporting KC had no trouble finding the back of the net.
Feilhaber opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, when he converted a penalty kick that was awarded after Ellis was dragged down in the penalty box.
While that lead lasted only 55 seconds — Bradley had a quick answer after a lapse in the Sporting KC defense — Nemeth provided another advantage later in the first half, using his head to loft a long attempt over Toronto FC keeper Joe Bendik. Nemeth has eight goals in his first MLS season.
Peterson added the dagger in the 87th minute, his first of 2015. Amobi Okugo recorded an assist on the final goal in his first appearance since joining Sporting KC last month via trade with Orlando City SC.
That was more than enough cushion for a defense that completely shut down the Toronto FC offense after halftime, even if it required a sprawling save from keeper Tim Melia, who improved to 8-2-3 this season.
The Toronto FC attack features Sebastian Giovinco, who leads MLS with 16 goals, along with U.S. national team members Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
On Saturday, they were no match for Ellis, who on three occasions single-handedly thwarted scoring chances.
“Kevin was incredible back there,” Vermes said. “He won every aerial duel. He won every (one-on-one) tackle with the players in front of him. He was very good.”
Sporting Kansas City 3
Toronto FC 1
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis, Chance Myers (Amadou Dia, 88th), Connor Hallisey, Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura (Amobi Okugo, 57th), Jimmy Medranda, Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth (Saad Abdul-Salaam, 76th), Jacob Peterson.
TORONTO FC: Joe Bendik, Ashtone Morgan (Daniel Lovitz, 69th), Ahmed Kantari, Eriq Zavaleta, Jonathan Osorio (Justin Morrow, 69th), Jackson, Michael Bradley, Collen Warner, Marco Delgado, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco.
Kansas City: 1, Feilhaber 8 (penalty kick), 22nd minute. 3, Nemeth 8 (Feilhaber), 29th. 4, Peterson 1 (Okugo), 87th. Toronto FC: 2, Bradley 3 (Giovinco), 22nd.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: None.
Toronto FC: Warner, 89th.
Kansas City: None.
Toronto FC: None.
Referee: Mark Geiger.
Assistant referee: Eric Boria.
Assistant referee: Kathryn Nesbitt.
4th official: Jose Carlos Rivero.
Announced attendance: 24,126.