The Full 90

Three Thoughts: Sporting KC snatches late victory over Philadelphia

The Kansas City Star

You know how some people call soccer “the beautiful game”? Yeah, no one is stepping out on a ledge to describe Kansas City’s 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union that.

Not even close.

But excitement? Oh, this game had plenty of that.

Five goals, all of them from set pieces or scrambles after a set piece. Two of them after the 90th minute. Moments of end-to-end soccer, at times like someone dropped a soccer ball in the middle of track meet. Disallowed goals. Controversial calls. Passes pinballing around the box. Goalkeepers trying to out-howler the other.

It might not have been beautiful, but it was definitely entertaining.

Here are three more takeaways from the game.

1. Never give up the ship

This wasn’t always the greatest example of how well Sporting KC can play. In fact, for stretches of this game KC was quite ponderous and unimaginative going forward.

Kansas City bossed the game on the stat sheet, creating more shots (14-10) and chances (11-5) but were limited during the run of play and completed only slightly more than half of their 122 passes in the attacking third. Only 28 percent of Kansas City’s 29 crosses were completed. That’s ... not good.

The same goes for Philadelphia, who completed a shocking 53 percent of their passes. That’s for the entire game. And they only attempted 212 passes.

It took nearly 90 minutes for Kansas City to finally play with the urgency (and desperation even) necessary to grind out these sort of wins. Some could even reasonably argue, given how bad the Union have been this season, there shouldn’t have even been the need for late-game heroics and KC should’ve taken care of business.

But the moral of the story: When things aren’t really going your way — and KC were done and dusted in many people’s minds at the 88th minute mark — never stop pushing and pumping the ball into the box. You never know when an opponent will completely and totally break down.

Like the Union did. Twice.

All game long, Philly’s big-money goalkeeper Rais M’bolhi looked a mess dealing with balls in the box. He flailed at crosses and simply just threw himself into challenges with no real plan. If Kansas City could keep up the pressure, a breakthrough was possible.

The last time KC scored twice in stoppage time to win a game? 2007.

2. Dom Dwyer can’t live on an island

While KC’s star forward finally got on the scoreboard after a slow start to the season, he was extremely isolated during much of the first half. He had three shots on target — two from long distance. The team dropped off around him and never gave him the support he needs to build an attacking move.

It got a lot better in the second half — partially because Peter Vermes moved to bring in Krisztian Nemeth into the lineup.

For the game, Dwyer had 40 touches — better than his number in previous games this year. The more active and involved Dwyer can be in the offense, the better KC’s offense can be.

3. Sporting Park plays its part

Sunday was the 56th consecutive sellout at Sporting Park — an announced crowed of 19,545 on Easter Sunday no less.

While they weren’t treated to the best soccer or weather — a windy and misty evening — the fans roared to life when the fourth official raised his board for 6 additional minutes of stoppage time. It started mostly as hostile against the Union, but turned positive — almost urgent. More urgent than KC had been on the field for most of the game.

You could feel the energy lift with each foul that Philadelphia tried to milk for time. With each pass that found a willing foot in the attacking half. With each set piece chance.

When Jalil Anibaba scored to pull the game even, the crowd let loose a primal roar — partly because of the timing, partly because most had gone a hard 70 minutes without anything to roar for.

Philadelphia’s confidence — already shaky to begin with — faltered completely once the crowd took over.

My podcast co-host by the way tweeted that just seconds after the tying goal.

After the game, Vermes said that anything can happen in this park when describing how he felt entering stoppage time.

There’s still an awful lot of soccer to play this season and Sporting KC looked sorta awful for long stretches of the game. And many of KC’s problems at home were present (inconsistent attack, lots of possession without penetration) for this game.

But tonight, after weeks of waiting to explode, the crowd raised its level to peak intensity — and the team raised its level (just in time and, finally) to meet them.