Road warriors Sporting bank valuable point in Colorado

Ryan Smith

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More than most, Sporting Kansas City can appreciate that beggars can’t afford to be choosers.

So while they may have preferred, and possibly deserved, to walk away with three points Saturday night in Colorado, rarely has a run-of-the-mill 1-1 road draw felt so precious.

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For the first time since April 2, Sporting (1-6-2) listened to the final whistle of a league match knowing they would be leaving with something to show for their efforts. All told, it was a point manager Peter Vermes’s team has been chasing for the better part of eight weeks.

“Let’s not minimize this,” Vermes said. “These are the MLS Cup champions, and it’s a point at their place. This is a huge point for us on the road.”

Realistically, huge doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Playing with the weight of a five-game losing streak on their shoulders, Sporting mounted a second-half comeback through substitute Ryan Smith’s goal in the 75th minute to earn a 1-1 draw and negate a defensive misstep by Aurelien Collin.

It wasn’t always pretty. And there were certainly sketchy moments. But it was effective, and that was all that really mattered in the end.

“We gave them the first goal,” Vermes said, “but the reaction from the players was tremendous. They came fighting right from that whistle on. They knew that we could do it and get back into game. We did and even more so. We should have walked away with three points with the number of chances that we created.”

Even more than the missed chances and points left on the table, it was Collin’s defensive gaffe that left Vermes shaking his head as Sporting extended a troubling habit of gifting their opponents an opening instead of forcing them to earn it.

With Casey applying pressure in the 13th minute, Collin played a lackadaisical back pass to Jimmy Nielsen that the Colorado striker intercepted easily. One touch took him past a charging Nielsen, where Casey passed the ball into the back of the net before a sliding Matt Besler could clear the line.

“Believe me, that is something that we will be talking about this week really heavily,” Vermes said. “Those things cannot happen.”

Sporting started the game with a lineup inspired by their midweek 5-0 Open Cup victory against New England, with C.J. Sapong, Chance Myers and Omar Bravo leading the line and Ryan Smith and Teal Bunbury waiting on the bench.

But down a goal and forced to replace Seth Sinovic, who tweaked his hamstring, Vermes sent Smith on at the break and Bunbury nine minutes later. Sporting responded immediately.

Bravo, Bunbury and Smith all had scoring chances foiled by a combination of good goalkeeping, timely defending and even a unfortunate slip before Smith unveiled a piece of individual brilliance to pull Sporting even.

After Bunbury found the shifty Englishman in space, Smith put Kosuke Kimura on his heels, drove into the penalty area and unleashed an unstoppable drive high inside the far post.

“He did what he needed to do,” Vermes said, “and that was make an major impact in the game. I thought (Ryan) had a couple of good runs with the ball and good services right when he came in. Finally, the goal was just a colossal goal. Fantastic.”

For the first time in months, the end is in sight for a Kansas City squad that has been left behind the curve and weary by their season-opening road trip.

The last stop comes in Toronto in a week’s time, where conditions that seem conducive to a desperately needed road victory, but Sporting can’t afford to look ahead.

At this point, it’s one step, and one point, at a time.

 “We have to go there with a strong mentality again,” Vermes said. “We got a great point here, which was tremendous for us. Now, it’s really important for us to focus on this last game before we do come home.”