It may have been a tale of two halves, but in the big picture it was just another frustrating 1-0 defeat for Sporting Kansas City.
For 45 minutes, Sporting defended with their backs to the wall, dominated by a New York side that was unlucky to score just one goal.
For the next 45, though, manager Peter Vermes’ side turned the tables, forcing the Red Bulls back into their own half. However, they came up tantalizingly short of an equalizer.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: New York 1, Sporting KC 0
“We felt like we were around their box, pushing the game and getting around them,” Vermes said. “We were close. Even at the last second of the game with (Ryan) Smith’s run late putting them under major pressure.”
But, like so many other attacking moves before it, Smith’s surging run to the byline as time ran out didn’t produce the final ball or the final touch needed to steal a vital road result from New York’s clutches.
As much as Sporting huffed and puffed, they simply couldn’t find a breakthrough, losing their third consecutive match to give them four points from a possible 24 so far this season and leaving them rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
Sporting were fortunate to even have a chance of coming back in the second half. The Red Bulls would’ve been up by several goals before the break if not for goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. The Dane guessed right to save Rafa Márquez’s penalty attempt, and then pulled off impressive saves to keep out efforts from Dwayne De Rosario and Tim Ream.
But after seeing his side nearly wilt under pressure, Vermes made a crucial change heading into the second half. He dedicated numbers to shut off the Red Bulls preferred route through the center of the field, dropping Davy Arnaud into a more defensive position alongside Stephane Auvray, who was starting for a suspended Birahim Diop.
“We made an adjustment in the midfield in the second half by going to two and one instead of one and two,” Vermes said. “That really clogged up the middle on them, and created a different situation and the difference in the game.”
Another difference maker in the second stanza was Ryan Smith, who made his second appearance since returning from injury. Smith was every bit the jinking, darting attacking presence that Kansas City relied on in 2010, adding a bit of variety to Sporting’s front line with his ability to take players on at pace and cultured left foot.
“Smitty puts a different pressure on a team,” Vermes said. “Him coming in was a big spark for us.”
Unfortunately, that spark didn’t light a fire. Yet again, Sporting earned a moral victory rather than a real one. The knowledge that they outplayed the conference frontrunners for 45 minutes is tainted by the fact that they came away with no points to show for it.
“The first half was more in their favor,” Vermes said, “but the second half was definitely more in our favor. We just couldn’t get the final pass or final shot on goal.”