KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City’s unbeaten streak is still intact, rescued from the garbage bin by an Omar Bravo header deep in stoppage time on Saturday night against Chivas USA.
But obscured by the excitement surrounding Sporting’s thrilling, last-second equalizer against the Goats was the fact that manager Peter Vermes’ team turned in quite possibly its worst half of play in nearly two months during the first 45 minutes.
Chivas’ pressure, movement and formation put Kansas City squarely on the back foot in the first half, and Nick LaBrocca waltzed in on goal to give Sporting a second straight deficit from which to recover at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“It wasn’t so much their possession,” Vermes said. “It was that [Chivas] recovered most of the balls in the midfield, which we were a little bit late on.
"At times, they were able to stretch the field. I thought they did a really good job on second balls. I thought that the goal was pretty soft on our part. I thought that we were pretty unorganized in the first half.”
Unorganized is something Sporting have rarely been over their last 12 games (six goals allowed) as they climb the Eastern Conference table and move into the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup quarterfinals.
But, in addition to scoring the opener during the opening stanza, LaBrocca rattled the crossbar with Jimmy Nielsen relegated to the role of spectator, and his teammates kept the home team from finding any sort of rhythm.
“We were just a step too late to everything the first half, and that caused us to do a lot of defending and running," Besler said Saturday. "It was hot tonight. We’ve played a lot of games. I think our legs were a little tired. We just gave them a little too much space, and they kept slipping it through. It was kind of a domino effect, really.”
Fortunately, Kansas City managed to reverse that trend in the second half, bombing forward to assault the Chivas goal until Bravo finally found the equalizer seconds from the final whistle. And while Vermes was disappointed to end up with a second consecutive 1-1 draw at home, he said there was plenty to take from his team’s reaction to going down a goal.
“The great thing is that during halftime, I said to the guys that in the last 11 games that we’ve played, [that was] probably the worst half of soccer that I’ve seen us play,” Vermes said. “And unfortunately, that’s going to happen. The important thing is how you react in the second half. And I thought our reaction was excellent.”
Conrad back in KC in new role
Jimmy Conrad made his return to Kansas City Saturday night on the visitor’s bench, but he wasn’t there to serve as a potential substitute.
Conrad was listed on the team sheet as one of Robin Fraser’s assistant coaches and spent pregame warmups running the Chivas USA squad through various drills as well as receiving an ovation from the fans with whom he spent eight memorable seasons.
Fraser said Conrad, who has made only two appearances this season, was still recovering from a concussion suffered earlier in the year, prompting the staff to take advantage of his experience in any way it could.
“He’s working through his issues with his concussion,” Fraser said, “and he’s got so much experience for us that he’s able to lend another pair of seasoned and experienced eyes. So, with us, he’s been doing whatever it is that we ask him to do and he’s been extremely valuable to us.”