LOS ANGELES -- When Latif Blessing cleverly returned a pass to Christian Ramirez in the 84th minute of Saturday night’s match between two Western Conference playoff contenders LAFC and Sporting Kansas City, it looked for all the world like Superman was about to pick up right where he left off when he departed Minnesota earlier this week and give his new team a chance to get back into the contest.
Instead, it was Sporting’s central defender Ike Opara who was able to get just enough on it to send Ramirez's shot looping over his goalkeeper and off the woodwork.
“We set an attitude out over the last couple of weeks to be better defensively,” Opara said. “We put ourselves in really good positions, we just haven’t made any plays in the month of July.”
Opara’s work was indicative of Sporting Kansas City’s ability to get what they needed when it counted most Saturday night. They didn’t deliver a spellbinding performance in Exposition Park but they came away 2-0 victors all the same, and their efficient display little surprise to their opponent.
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“Kansas City is a good team,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. “When you play against a good team, they try to do a lot of the things that we try to do.”
Gerso Fernandes put Sporting Kansas City ahead just 17 minutes in after a series of mistimed passes and a position lapse on the part of the home side allowed the Guinea-Bissau-born attacker a skillful finish to put LAFC behind for only the second time at home all season.
“We ended up turning over the ball in a rough spot,” Bradley said. “In that situation, Tristan [Blackmon] is probably a little too high, the danger is coming and then they made us pay.”
Ilie Sanchez converted a penalty just after the hour mark to put his side up 2-0.
A flurry of offensive chances in the final half hour might have swung the game in another direction — including Andre Horta’s pass intended for debutant Ramirez ricocheting off the post — but in the end, Sporting KC held on for all three points, and put some distance between the teams in the standings.
“They’re a very good team and I think the organization has done a great job,” said Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes. “But at the end of the day, we’re neck and neck right now and it was important for us to get some points here. The fact that we got three points, those are big points for us.”
The win goes a long way to giving the Kansas City side confidence that their summer skid is over, after going more than a month without a win before turning their fortunes last week in Houston with a win.
For LAFC’s part, their attempt to play with the same flair the Banc of California Stadium faithful have been accustomed to was complicated by a huge number of changes to their starting XI, including three players starting their first matches for the club — Horta, goalkeeper Luis Lopez, and Secondary Transfer Window signing Danilo Silva — and stalwarts like Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman on the bench.
These rotations made LAFC’s ability to get a result against a strong Kansas City side challenging, even if they were playing in front of their favored home crowd.
It was the first time — across all competitions — that LAFC have lost a match at Banc of California Stadium and Bradley was quick to give the Sporting Kansas City credit for their performance.
“In the first half, they had the better of things,” Bradley said. “I think for sure the second half for us was a good response. I saw a lot of good things. If we’re a little bit fortunate, maybe we can get the game back to 1-1, or certainly even with the penalty, 2-1, but on the night, we come up short. We’re honest. We know this has been a tough stretch.”
For his part, Vermes was happy to take part in some history that favored the visitors.
“We knew this was going to be a tough match, they’ve performed very well here at home,” said Vermes. “It’s a great environment, beautiful stadium and it was a pleasure for us to be able to come in here and play.”