Sporting Kansas City rolled a well-oiled road machine into Vancouver – and then the wheels fell off.
That didn't sit well with manager Peter Vermes, who watched his club's five-match away winning streak and eight-match unbeaten run come to an end in Sunday night's lackluster 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“We've got a lot to play for, and you can't go out in games and think that it's just going to be a walkthrough, a walk in the park,” Vermes, whose team still leads the Eastern Conference and holds a share of the Supporters’ Shield lead with Real Salt Lake, told reporters during a postmatch conference call. “The mentality was not right. Obviously, the mentality's been very good as of late, but it's a thing that you have to bring consistently. When you don't, in this league, you get your butt handed to you.”
That's what happened on Sunday, when the Whitecaps came out energized from the opening whistle and kept the defending MLS Cup champions – who entered the match with a league-best 7-4-0 road record – on their heels and looking disorganized.
A communications lapse between goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum and right back Igor Juliao resulted in an own goal in the 17th minute. Darren Mattocks finished Pedro Morales' well-placed pass to make it 2-0 in the 39th, and Sporting never recovered.
“Simply put, the other team wanted it much more than we did, by far,” Vermes said. “We were playing very casual, lackadaisical. They were playing on the front foot. You could tell how hungry they were. They deserved, easily, to get the three points out of this game. They were for sure the better team.”
And to make things even tougher on Sporting, Gruenebaum – who has started six straight matches since Eric Kronberg went out with a broken bone in his left hand – had to come out at halftime with a shoulder injury.
That gave 21-year-old Homegrown keeper Jon Kempin his league debut, marking the first time Kansas City have used three goalkeepers in an MLS season since the then-Wizards used four in 1999. Kempin provided one of Sporting's few bright spots on the night, when he saved Mattocks' penalty kick in the 85th minute.
“He played well,” Vermes said. “He makes a save off the penalty, he does a good job. He was getting all the pieces. He didn't get tested too much, but when he had to be big, he was with the penalty. But there was no way we were going to put the ball in the back of the net today, nor really create a bunch of chances. That's not going to happen when you have a lackadaisical attitude, and that's my responsibility. I'll be taking care of that pretty quickly.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.