Midway through the second half of his team’s most lethargic performance of the season, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes squatted to his knees, put his face in the palms of his hands and took his eyes off the match for a few moments.
It wasn’t easy to watch.
Winless in its previous nine matches, the Philadelphia Union dealt Sporting KC a 2-1 defeat Wednesday, the club’s first home loss of the season in front of 19,073 fans at Sporting Park.
“We deserved to lose,” Vermes said. “They were the better team. They worked harder than we did. They were hungrier than we were.”
Sporting KC, 5-3-2, still had a chance to preserve its unbeaten home record when Dom Dwyer evened the score in the 80th minute with his team-leading seventh goal of the season.
But the escape from a forgettable showing was short-lived. Philadelphia midfielder Cristian Maidana netted his first goal of the season only one minute later, freezing keeper Eric Kronberg with a crossing shot.
A fitting finish to the night.
“(Dwyer) puts us back in the game with 10 minutes to go, and then they go right down the field, and we give something up,” captain Matt Besler said. “That can’t happen. And that’s on me. That’s in my part of the field. That one is going to be tough for me to swallow.”
It certainly wasn’t the sendoff Besler and teammate Graham Zusi coveted. Sporting KC expressed the desire to build momentum before losing its two stars to the United States national team for up to six weeks.
It played out much differently.
Sporting KC lacked energy from the opening whistle against the second worst team in the Eastern Conference. In the process of ending a nine-match winless streak, Philadelphia picked up its first road win in seven tries and improved to 2-5-5.
“It’s a tough one to swallow because we dropped points at home,” Dwyer said. “We should be earning at least one point at home, probably three, so we’re disappointed.”
That objective took a bleak turn when Philadelphia midfielder Danny Cruz cleaned up a rebound in the 49th minute to give the Union a 1-0 edge.
The second half would only get worse.
Defender Aurelien Collin left the match in the 62nd minute after aggravating a hamstring injury. He previously subbed out of an April 19 match against Montreal, but he played the following week.
He said Wednesday night that he expects this injury to hold him out a couple of weeks.
“This time it’s for real,” Collin said. “I’ll take the time to rest and come back 100 percent.”
As bad as the second half played out, the first didn’t look much better.
Nevertheless, the club managed two high-quality shots on goal. They both belonged to Sal Zizzo, and they both came courtesy of Zusi.
In the 33rd minute, Zusi lofted a crossing pass that found Zizzo, who headed a shot directly at Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. MacMath hardly had time to react, but he didn’t need to move for his first save of the game.
Zusi set up Zizzo again in added time of the first half, passing up a shot to allow Zizzo another shot at MacMath. But MacMath was again up for the task, stoning Zizzo and clearing the rebound from danger moments before the halftime whistle.
“Obviously I had the two best chances in the first half,” Zizzo said. “I’m really disappointed in myself to not put those away. Eight or nine times out of 10, I feel like I should put those away. I’m disappointed in myself.”
Sporting KC returns to action — without Besler and Zusi — on Sunday, when it travels to face Chicago at 2 p.m. at Toyota Park.
Besler and Zusi will join the national team for its pre-World Cup camp Thursday.