It wasn't the end to his five-match shutout streak that bothered Jimmy Nielsen, or the missed chance to own Sporting Kansas City's career clean-sheet record outright. It was the end of Sporting's three-match winning streak and five-match unbeaten streak.
“It's disappointing, the way we performed,” Nielsen told reporters after Sporting's 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Saturday night. “That's what's disappointing. I'm not disappointed about the shutout. You know, big games like this, you just don't play bad like we did today. That's the big disappointment."
Tired legs from a cross-country road swing and an early deficit also had something to do with the result, manager Peter Vermes said, but what bothered him most was how the Galaxy got their first goal.
Marcelo Sarvas' 27th-minute tap-in, off a spot-perfect feed from Landon Donovan, came after Sarvas handled a bouncing ball at midfield and the infraction went uncalled by referee Jair Marrufo.
“It doesn't help when – look, it's a handball,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “And now you have to go and chase the game when you're already tired, and they're playing at home and they have the rest. So there were a lot of things that were stacked against us. Once that play happened, and the ball went in, I thought we still had some opportunities here and there, but we just didn't have the legs to push it all the way through.”
Nielsen, whose 37 shutouts tie him with Tony Meola atop Kansas City's career list, didn't see the handball but said Sarvas acknowledged it later.
“I spoke to him at halftime, and he said he got a touch on it,” Nielsen said. “Great save. Great, great save.”
While he didn't fault his team's effort, Vermes said Sporting's players got caught out of position too often and then had to expend extra energy to recover.
“We needed to be a little tactically smarter at times,” he said. “Instead of running as much as we did, we needed to be in better positions. But we got stretched out, and we were tired.”
Both Sarvas' goal and the Galaxy's insurance tally in the 74th minute came after slips by Sporting players – Uri Rosell on the first score and Paulo Nagamura on the second, as he overreacted to a move by Robbie Keane and the Irish DP took off on a break that ended with an easy finish for Donovan.
“I don't think that was fatigue,” Vermes said. “Maybe it's the wrong shoes for the situation, and sometimes guys just slip.”
After Wednesday night's 1-0 win over New York at Red Bull Arena, Vermes said the hard-fought nature of that match and Thursday's cross-country flight to Los Angeles might dictate some changes in his starting lineup. Instead, he went with the same XI in both matches – a decision he defended in a phone interview following Saturday night's loss.
“I was thinking about it, but it wasn't like we played a Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday.” he said. “We played a Wednesday-Saturday. I don't think, from that perspective, that it was over the top.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.