Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen could sense a change in his teammates’ demeanor Saturday. He did his best to shake it off, and he wasn’t the only one.
No. Anyone following Sporting this season — and that includes many that were in the Major League Soccer-record crowd of 20,018 at Livestrong Sporting Park — likely had the same thought when they saw F.C. Dallas cut Sporting’s lead to one in the 70th minute:
Just hold on!
“There was a very bad reaction from our sideline when they scored the first goal,” Nielsen said. “Not nerves, but shakiness.”
That “shakiness” can easily be applied to fans, too, and it definitely turned to a combination of anger, frustration and disbelief about a half-hour later, when the final whistle blew in Sporting’s 3-2 loss.
Some of that disappointment — the crowd was booing – was clearly directed toward their team, which took a 2-0 lead in the second half thanks to goals by Kei Kamara and Omar Bravo, only to lose it at the end.
But some of it was also directed to head referee Chris Penso, who put Sporting down a man in the 76th minute, when he handed Sporting forward Teal Bunbury an iffy yellow card for a bad foul.
Sporting held off Dallas, 13-7-7, for 13 minutes or so, but Dallas finally knotted the score at 2-2 in the 89th minute on a header by Maicon Santos in the box off a cross from star midfielder Brek Shea.
And Shea struck again in extra time, when he sent a beautiful cross to Bobby Warshaw, who scored his first career goal on a header from close range to give Dallas the game-winner.
“Shea basically played a great ball in, and Jimmy couldn’t come out for it because it was too hard of a ball,” said Sporting defender Matt Besler. “And he played it in between us, and it went where (we) weren’t and the guy headed it in. It was a good play by him.”
This one hurt, and not because it was a choke job. It hurt because it’s one they’ve experienced all too much this season. Players still haven’t forgotten their 3-3 draw against Vancouver earlier this season, in which they blew a three-goal lead. And they haven’t forgotten their 2-1 loss against Seattle on Aug. 6, in which they blew another lead late.
“Obviously we didn’t learn from our mistakes in the past,” said midfielder Graham Zusi. “If we want to do anything, we have to do better.”
Zusi also dismissed any notion that this was a wakeup call.
“I think it was a wakeup call the first two times it happened,” he said.
Throw in the fact Sporting, which dropped to 9-8-9 but was second in the Eastern Conference entering the game, lost a chance to pull to within one-point of first-place Columbus (which also lost Saturday), and the result becomes even tougher to bear.
“We don’t deserve to be in first if we let opportunities like this get lost,” team captain Omar Bravo said through a translator.
Afterward, Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman was complimentary of Sporting. The game was exciting, after all, as the two teams combined for 30 shots (nine on goal).
“Don’t be surprised if we (play) again, said Hyndman, who was referring to the chances of both teams meeting in the playoffs.
But for Sporting, all playoff talk is premature until they figure out how to eliminate their nagging propensity to give up late leads.
“Right now, we should not focus much on the standings and playoffs and all that,” Nielsen said. “We’ve just got to focus on our performance, because what we did today was not good enough.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY NOTEBOOK
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Davy Arnaud was on the 18-man gameday roster Saturday for the first time in over two months.
Arnaud, who didn’t get in the game, has been recovering from sports hernia surgery. He said he practiced with the club four times this week, and added that he could have played if he was needed.
“We talked a little bit, and I didn’t think I was going to get in the game,” Arnaud said of his pregame discussion with coach Peter Vermes about his status. “But you never know.”
Vermes has maintained all along that Arnaud would be ready to play in early September, and with Sporting’s next game scheduled for Sept. 5 against Los Angeles, Arnaud said that’s absolutely the date he expects to get back on the field.
“Thursday and Friday, I was able to move around and not think about the injury,” said Arnaud, who added that he was open to playing any role in an increasingly crowded midfield. “I’m ready to go, man.”
Forward Kei Kamara scored his team-leading eighth goal in the 22nd minute. The goal, which was unassisted, was his third in his last four games.
Sporting forward Teal Bunbury was sent off in the 76th minute for his second yellow card, but he won’t serve his mandatory one-game suspension during Sporting’s next game on Sept. 5.
Bunbury is scheduled to miss the game anyway because of U.S. National Team duty, and league rules say players must serve suspensions in games they are available to play in.
Defender Aurélien Collin made his first appearance in five games since he was forced out of the lineup with a back injury. He came in for Omar Bravo in the 71st minute.