Conceding late goals current focus for an otherwise strong Sporting Kansas City defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Seven matches into their season, Sporting Kansas City are one of only two clubs in MLS giving up less than a goal per game.

Of the six scored against them, three have come from the penalty spot in what's shaping up to be a record-breaking year for the league in that category. Of those three, one arguably should have been a free kick the other way for a play that ended center back Ike Opara's season.

None of the remaining three goals have come in the first half – the first 89 minutes, for that matter. And there's the rub for the defending MLS Cup champs.

They're locked in a four-way tie for second in the East, heading into Sunday's home match against conference-leading Columbus Crew (4 pm ET; NBCSNfree stream on NBCSports.com), but they were just minutes away from four more points that would have them alone in the lead.

“We've put in good shifts, but the game's more than 90 minutes,” right back Chance Myers said on Friday, during the club's weekly news conference. “The extra four minutes of the game is just as crucial as the middle 45.

"Something we've got to do a better job of is just closing things out. Putting in the performance is one thing, but getting the result is the ultimate task. Whether or not you play well, getting the result – sometimes that's more important.”

Sporting's most recent late concessions came in last weekend's 2-0 loss at New England, when stoppage-time goals from Teal Bunbury and Lee Nguyen – the latter from the penalty spot – spoiled SKC's hopes of hanging on for a point after Aurelien Collin's red card in the 71st minute left them a man down.

“I don't like the fact that we gave up [Bunbury's] goal because we were in a good position to be able to deal with that situation,” manager Peter Vermes said earlier in Friday's news conference. “That's the biggest thing. I don't think it's a problem. The easiest way to say it is that I don't think it's a problem.”

Last week's result certainly wasn't indicative of Sporting's play during most of the five-match unbeaten streak that preceded it. Before their loss to the Revs, they hadn't conceded late since opening the season with a 1-0 stoppage-time loss at Seattle and a 1-1 home draw against FC Dallas that wasn't settled until the 89th minute.

That didn't stop club president Robb Heineman from saying, during a radio interview this week, that he wasn't pleased by the way those three matches came out.

“We've left a ton of points out there,” Heineman told Kansas City's Sports Radio 810 WHB. “We should have had a draw in the first game in Seattle. We should've won at home against Dallas. We dominated against Salt Lake and wound up with the [scoreless] draw there.

"We just didn’t play well against New England. That's a game we've got to win. Right now, we have more talent than they have and we should've won the game.”

Sporting aren't in anything close to panic mode over the issue, center back Matt Besler told reporters on Friday, but they're taking it seriously.

“I think it's always a concern,” he said. “You never want to give up late goals. We talk about it every week. It's not like we give up a late goal, and all the focus is on defending the following week. We really approach each week the same way, and giving up late goals is one of the things that we focus on. For whatever reason, the ball hasn't bounced our way a couple of times. We haven't made good enough decisions the last five minutes.

"I think the mentality just needs to be a bit better.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.