Travel-weary legs almost certainly were a factor in Sporting Kansas City’s sluggish performance Saturday night in a 2-0 loss against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Sporting KC, 4-2-2, had topped the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night 1-0 roughly 2,800 miles away in Harrison, N.J.
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The same starting 11 from the mid-week win failed to muster the same intensity and precision against the Galaxy in suffering the season’s second loss.
“We got out of shape a little too much,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “I think some of that was because we were tired and we were getting to places late.”
During the 27th minute, midfielder Marcelo Sarvas snapped Sporting KC’s shutout streak at 545 minutes, the fifth-longest stretch without conceding a goal in MLS history.
Landon Donovan, who made his second start and third appearance since returning from a self-imposed hiatus, had the assist on Sarvas’ controversial goal and later added the back-breaking goal — the 125th in his MLS career — off a feed from Robbie Keane in the 74th minute.
“I think our back line was a little too high and they had some late runs we struggled to handle,” Nielsen said. “But it was a combination of things. They did well and we didn’t perform the way we wanted. They did a good job punishing us every time we made mistakes.”
Leading up to the game-winning goal, Sarvas won a duel near midfield with Sporting KC midfielder Uri Rosell, then appeared to knock the ball forward with a raised arm, keeping it in his path and allowing him to play out wide for Donovan, who had acres of space on the left flank.
Eventually, Donovan slotted a pass back to Sarvas, who slipped in between two Sporting KC defenders and tapped the ball into an empty net with a left foot.
“It was a clear hand ball,” said Nielsen, who had moved to the near post before Donovan’s centering pass. “That was bad. We had done pretty well until that, but when they scored it gave them a little momentum and we looked a little tired after that and made some bad decisions.”
Nielsen, however, refused to use the coast-to-coast travel as an excuse for the poor result.
“We can’t make any excuses,” Nielsen said. “We’re top professional athletes. We should be able to handle this. That’s not any excuse. We just had an off day today.”
Obviously, Sporting KC is excited to return to Sporting Park, where it plays the first of three consecutive home games Saturday against the Portland Timbers FC.
“We all have to learn from tonight and there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll bounce back with a good performance on Saturday at home,” Nielsen said. “We take a lot of pride in what we’re doing and today was not our best, but I’m 100 percent sure we’ll come back stronger than ever and we’ll be better for the future.”