SKC Notebook: Sporting lacking grit as another lead lost?

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City may not be able to fully explain it, but the numbers clearly reflect that late goals have been their Achilles’ heel this season.

Kansas City gave up two goals after the 89th minute to FC Dallas on Saturday night to squander a 2-1 lead and what looked to be yet another boost up the Eastern Conference standings. Unfortunately, the last-gasp collapse was just an extension of a long-standing issue — Sporting have now given up 11 goals from the 76th minute onward.

There may not be an all-encompassing answer as to why his team can’t seem to close out games consistently, but manager Peter Vermes said it simply came down to competitive drive against FC Dallas.

HIGHLIGHTS: SKC 2, FCD 3
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“We did more than enough, being up two goals at home,” Vermes said. “We should secure the win. It’s not even closing down the game. We, at the end, weren’t competing enough. They had two balls in from the outside that we should be close enough to block. We’re not. Then we let two guys in on the back door, not necessarily unmarked but not challenged like you should be.”

After suffering a near identical flop against the Seattle Sounders two weeks ago, many players struggled to explain how they could allow yet another three points to drop by the wayside.

Some pointed to the effect Teal Bunbury’s red card had on the flow of the game and the fatigue it brought on as Kansas City defended their slender lead. Others focused on Daniel Hernandez’s fluky, set-piece goal just two minutes after Omar Bravo made it 2-0, which swung the momentum back to the visitors.

Graham Zusi sided with Vermes, citing disappointment in Sporting’s lack of competitiveness and grit in the late going.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Zusi said of his manager’s assessment. “That game wasn’t a pretty game. It was a battle from the beginning. That’s what happens sometimes in this league. We need to be able to win in a pretty fashion, and we have to be able to win in a battle. So far we haven’t proven ourselves to really stick it out in those few minutes of a game.”

Defender Matt Besler had an even more straightforward explanation.

“They made plays at the end,” Besler said. “We seem to just not be making that play.”

Red cards a recurring theme

Kansas City have played 26 games this season. Almost a third of those games have ended with Sporting playing with 10 men.

Teal Bunbury was the seventh Sporting Kansas City player to be ejected this season after picking up two cautions against FCD, the second coming in the 76th minute. Vermes’ team has now racked up a club-record eight ejections in 2011, compiling a 2-5-1 record in those games and blowing late leads in three of them.

“We could talk all day about that stuff,” Vermes said, “but we’ve been down that road so many times. It’s old for me. ... We have to be able to play in those situations, and we didn’t do it.”