String of poor first halves starting to grate on Sporting KC

Sporting KC's Jeferson and Julio Cesar.

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City aren’t quite ready to call their string of poor first halves a habit, but with the way things have gone for the past month, they are well on the way to becoming a trend.

Teal Bunbury was the latest in a string of late-game heroes for Sporting this past weekend, scoring in the 89th minute against the Revolution to salvage the club’s fourth come-from-behind draw in its past five matches.

And even more so than before against Colorado, Chivas USA and Houston, this time there was absolutely no excuse for Kansas City’s tentative start and subsequent 1-0 first-half deficit.

“Honestly, we talked about it before the game,” defender Matt Besler said. “We just didn’t do it in the first half, and Peter [Vermes] got into us [at halftime]. For some reason, we weren’t all on that page.”

But as they’ve done for most of July, Sporting found a way to close down New England’s passing lanes and time on the ball after halftime, resulting in a dominating second-half performance that was one more clinical finish away from being a rousing, comeback victory instead of a last-gasp draw.

As exciting as Sporting’s furious comeback was for the 17,418 fans in attendance at Livestrong Sporting Park, it was yet another reminder of what could have been for the home team after settling for their fourth point in six games.

All things considered, the draw did extend Kansas City’s unbeaten streak to 13 games. But tellingly, eight of those matches have been draws and the missed opportunities for three points are starting to pile up.

Vermes said he took Saturday night’s match as one more sign that his team isn’t playing anywhere close to its full capabilities for the full 90 minutes.

“I know that we can [dominate like] that in the first half,” he said. “Maybe not to that extent but a lot more than we did in the first half [vs. New England]. That’s something that we have to get mentally stronger on because there is no doubt that we can play like that for 90 minutes.”

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who was beaten by fellow Dane Rajko Lekic for New England’s only goal, pointed to Kansas City’s recent 4-2 thrashing of Toronto FC as an indication of what an aggressive posture from the start can accomplish. Sporting opened the scoring against the Reds and never looked back, coasting to a 4-2 victory by virtue of three first-half goals.

But that game has been the aberration lately — Sporting also conceded first in their US Open Cup defeat to the Richmond Kickers — and scratching back into games is beginning to wear on the players and coaches.

“It’s not a good habit to get into to go down a goal early,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “Honestly, it’s been an issue with us for awhile now. We need to come out, realize we’re at home and take it to the opposing team, especially in the first half. We need to let them know it’s going to be a long game for them so we can control the flow of the game.”

When Kansas City manage to do that, they’ve walked away with three points more often than not. But when they don’t, recent history has shown that even visiting teams have a good chance of leaving LSP with at point to show for their efforts as long as they can weather Sporting’s second-half storm.

One thing is for sure, though, at some point Kansas City’s magic is going to run out. The more they put themselves in precarious positions, the more they’ll drop points there for the taking, something the club can ill afford as it enters the stretch run.

“It’s something we have to change and something we have to do better,” Nielsen said. “We can’t expect that we will score in the last second in the next game.”