KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City’s defensive misery kicked up a notch Sunday, with a 3-0 loss to Atlanta United.
Before Sunday, Kansas City had allowed 11 goals in its last four matches (not including the 10 it allowed in its April Concacaf Champions League two-leg series against Monterrey). SKC hasn’t won an MLS match since March 30, when it took down Montreal 7-1.
SKC was missing several starters Sunday after a slew of injuries (defenders Matt Besler and Andreu Fontas and midfielders Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez, the latter of which subbed in midway through the second half). Only 16 players dressed Sunday. The lack of bodies was the catalyst for a bit of a tactical switch-up, which saw SKC packing the midfield much more than usual.
“There were some points where we were fine, we were organized, but we really weren’t overly dangerous today,” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “Some of that is because we had to drop back a little bit deeper. They’re a very dangerous team going forward.”
That strategy held steady for most of the first half, until the 39th minute when Ezequiel Barco found room for a fast break and launched a shot from distance. The shot rebounded straight off the hands of SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia, who couldn’t catch the ball or bat it down. Instead, Atlanta’s Josef Martinez was there for the rebound and knocked in a straightforward shot to take the lead.
Atlanta converted that one despite a crowded midfield line from Kansas City that had largely stifled any first-half chances. Anytime Atlanta found a couple feet of space, SKC closed in and narrowed every lane and stopped up the gaps. That is, until Martinez cleaned up Barco’s saved shot.
Still, that attention to a fuller midfield cost SKC when it came to converting on the counter. It struggled to find chances and left the first half with only four shots, none of them on target.
“I think at the beginning tactically (we were) pretty good,” forward Krisztian Nemeth said. “We don’t have that many chances but we had a couple. They don’t have chances until their first goal. I think (in) the first half, if we had more concentration, probably can keep the zero, and I don’t believe this game was like 3-0 for them. They scored the first one and after it was difficult to come back.”
Kansas City’s defense fell apart bit by bit in the second half. After a half-hearted SKC clearance that allowed the ball to hover in the danger zone, Barco took a touch and yanked a shot from distance. The ball rocketed into the corner, just past the fingertips of Melia, who couldn’t dive far enough to save it.
Martinez added his second goal in the 76th minute after Barco slipped it to him in the box. Despite SKC crowding the box with bodies, Martinez found space to shoot and once again beat out Melia. That goal set the 3-0 final score and sent many streaming toward the Children’s Mercy Park exits.
Atlanta finished the night with 18 shots, seven of those on goal. Meanwhile, Kansas City only managed 10, two on target.
“When you have nine to 10 people out that are injured and are starters on a regular basis, it’s not like you’re a magician and all of a sudden you can come up with something,” Vermes said. “If you’re interchanging two or three guys for a game here and there, great. But when you’ve got to change as many as we are right now there’s just no continuity.”
With the loss, Sporting KC (2-3-4) sinks lower in the Western Conference standings, while Atlanta moves on to 3-3-2.