KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The sign at Children's Mercy Park reads “Welcome to the Blue Hell.”
That saying has long been a warning to opposing clubs and supporters in one of MLS's loudest venues. This year, it's become an ironic reminder of Sporting's uncharacteristic struggles at their home ground.
After Friday night's rain-soaked – and rain-delayed – 1-0 loss to D.C. United, their second straight home defeat and their fourth loss in five matches, Sporting have dropped 14 of a possible 24 points at home. The top six teams in the Western Conference, by way of comparison, have dropped 17.
“It’s frustrating everywhere,” manager Peter Vermes said in his postmatch news conference, “because we pride ourselves in being able to go away from home and get points as well. It’s not a question of playing home or away, it’s a question of results, and the results are not there.”
As they have been so many times in recent weeks, Sporting were done in by a combination of failure to finish chances at one end and untimely lapses at the other.
In this instance, that lapse came in the 86th minute, after a United throw-in.
Keeper Tim Melia and forward Jacob Peterson both collided with D.C. forward Alhaji Kamara in the penalty area, as all three challenged for a high diagonal ball. Only Kamara – who had entered the match just 33 seconds earlier – was left standing, for an easy finish into the lower right corner as center back Ike Opara watched helplessly in the goalmouth.
“We work this whole week to try and get ready for set pieces,” Opara told reporters. “This is the perfect game – it’s raining, lightning delay, all these kinds of things -- and we knew it would be a sloppy game in the second half. It’s just one moment. I think we were sharp the whole game. It was just one moment with a lack of communication that led to that goal, and that’s frustrating.
“We focused all week on stopping defensive errors and we make it 85 minutes. All I can say is moving forward, we have to finish the last five. Those are the critical moments of the game and at the end of the day, we can’t allow that to happen, especially at home.”
Sporting outshot United 18-6 on Friday night, including a 3-2 edge in shots on goal, but poor shooting and three saves by Bill Hamid, making his season debut after returning from injury, left Kansas City shut out for the fourth time this year.
“We should have scored goals tonight,” Vermes said. “We missed the target for sure but that still doesn’t mean that you should be giving up soft goals. I’ve never minimized the fact that you have to score goals in this game. My only point is that if you give up soft goals, you lose points. There have been other games where we’ve scored goals and we still gave up soft goals and we lost. You can’t give up soft goals. That’s my point.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.