Playing with a reserve-laden lineup, Sporting Kansas City was outclassed Tuesday in an international friendly against reigning French Ligue 1 champions Montpellier Herault SC at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Sporting KC never managed a shot on goal in a 3-0 loss — the first in the last four international exhibitions for the club.
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Still, the experience — as well as staying healthy — made the exhibition worthwhile for Sporting KC.
“It was a learning lesson for the young guys on the field tonight,” said assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, who stepped in because manager Peter Vermes is in Pennsylvania for tonight’s MLS All-Star Game. “We had three or four very experienced players, and the rest were young guys who got an absolute lesson tonight in some of the specifics of the game.”
The game was most notable for the Sporting KC debut of defender Neven Markovic.
“For a first performance, he was very good and delivered the goods in the game based on what we saw in training,” Zavagnin said.
Markovic spent the first half at left back, but moved to central defender for the second half.
“The game had opened up, and he was asked to solve a lot of problems that, at times, were unfair to him,” Zavagnin said
It also marked Eric Kronberg’s official return from a back injury as well as the official Sporting KC debut for Kyle Miller, who graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Rockhurst University.
As for the game, Sporting KC had a chance to grab an early goal when forward Soony Saad sent a dangerous cross through the Montpellier Herault box.
From that point, Montpellier Herault began to assert itself.
The breakthrough wouldn’t come until the 39th minute, but the French champions had several golden chances to grab a one-goal lead.
Off a corner kick in the 14th minute, midfielder Marco Estrada smashed a rocket that Kronberg was forced to swallow up with a dive onto his belly.
Estrada ripped a couple other dangerous, dipping shots from distance at Kronberg and delivered a looping pass over the Sporting KC defense for Gaetan Charbonnier, who chested it down in the box and had a rip at Kronberg.
To cheers from the 14,769 on hand, Kronberg stonewalled the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old French forward with a stab to his left.
But it was only a matter of time before Montpellier Herault broke through when Estrada whipped in a hard, low cross that Charbonnier nipped past Kronberg, giving Montpellier Herault a 1-0 lead with a beautifully struck goal and assist.
“The first half particularly, I thought we defended well and limited the chances (Montpellier Herault) had on goal, but we could have done better once we won the ball,” Zavagnin said. “The transitional moments, we weren’t very good and often left Soony Saad as the lone man to attack four or five guys.”
Montpellier Herault — which will play Coupe de France winners Olympique Lyonnais for the Trophee des Champions on Saturday at Red Bull Arena in New York — made nine substitutions at halftime but continued to dominate.
Striker Emanuel Herrera scored both second-half goals and showed why he was acquired to replace Ligue 1’s leading scorer from a year ago, Olivier Giroud, who finished with 21 goals and then signed with Arsenal of the English Premier League.
In the 72nd minute, Herrera won a foot race with Kronberg for a free ball in the box, touched it right around Sporting KC’s goalkeeper then cut a shot into the open net from a narrow angle. He added a second goal off a rebound in the 92nd minute.
“We are in the middle of our preparation for the season, and tonight was a good test against a good opponent for us,” Montpellier Herault coach Rene Girard said. “This was the best of the four matches we’ve played this preseason.”