For 45 minutes Saturday night, Sporting Kansas City held on to hope against the LA Galaxy, the demons of a difficult stretch lurking in the background as the visitors headed to halftime with a result squarely in sight.
In the end, though, all it took was 30 seconds for those demons to surface as the Galaxy ran away with their first victory against Kansas City in six meetings to send the visitors back to the drawing board after yet another disappointing defeat.
Sean Franklin found Landon Donovan from an innocuous throw-in and Donovan did the rest, carving up a sleeping Sporting defense and combining with Chad Barrett to put the Galaxy up for good and making Vermes’ halftime message to his side a moot point.
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“We talked about it at halftime,” Vermes said. “About being ready and prepared to play and getting going. Again, a critical mistake put the dagger in us at that point.”
It’s a feeling that is getting all too familiar for Kansas City. For the fourth consecutive game, Sporting walked away with nothing to show for their travels, losing 4-1 to a LA Galaxy side that didn’t pass up any opportunities to punish the visitors for their mistakes.
With seven games of their season-opening road trip in the books, Sporting Kansas City (1-5-1) are last in the Eastern Conference on four points and have yet to register a shut out. Even more frustrating is the way Sporting have dropped result after result through largely preventable errors.
And against LA it was simply more of the same. Despite dominating possession and enjoying the majority of the game’s early chances, the Galaxy found themselves down 1-0 following an Omar Gonzalez own-goal. But just as fortune finally seemed to be turning Sporting’s way, Roger Espinoza hacked down David Beckham with a rash challenge in the penalty area, allowing Donovan to even the score from the spot and shift the momentum for good.
Donovan scored his second just after halftime — his seventh goal in five games — and Kansas City found themselves with nowhere to go but down, conceding twice more after failing to heed their manager’s halftime warning.
“It’s very disappointing,” Vermes said. “We all know what we had to do when we came out of halftime. We all knew. To have that loss of concentration is a tough thing.”
Even tougher was watching Juan Pablo Ángel slip past Sporting’s flat-footed defenders to score the third goal followed by a vintage David Beckham free kick in the final minutes that was icing on the cake for a Galaxy side currently perched at the top of the Western Conference.
And although Sporting managed 11 shots to LA’s 13 and kept the game close through 45 minutes, Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders found himself forced into action by only three of those attempts while Eric Kronberg, making his first start this season and just second in his career, was peppered with 10 shots on frame and was lucky not to concede more to a rampant LA side.
All told, Kronberg made a few good saves and showed well in difficult circumstances, but neither he nor normal starter Jimmy Nielsen, who was given the night off, could have done anything to keep LA from their four goals.
“It was nothing against Jimmy at all,” Vermes said of the decision to play his seldom-used backup. “I think Jimmy has been playing well. It was time for us to give [Kronberg] a game.”
And despite all his waiting for just such an opportunity, Kronberg may have been content to watch from a distance had he known what was in store. After an admirable overall performance against New York two weeks ago, it was back to shambles for Sporting as the back line looked unorganized and slow to react and the attack lacked imagination and cohesion.
Most disappointingly, SKC shot themselves in the foot when it mattered most, leaving a mountain to climb in order to get within shouting distance of the rest of the league.
“A loss is a loss,” Vermes said. “It’s the key moments that I’m frustrated about.”