As brisk weather continued to deteriorate the already dampened atmosphere at Children's Mercy Park on Sunday afternoon, Sporting Kansas City found itself trailing 2-1 against the Seattle Sounders — who are yet to win a game this season — with less than 17 minutes to play.
With Sporting KC's lone goal, a 34th-minute penalty by forward Ilie Sánchez, defender Graham Zusi took it upon himself to bring some energy back into the stadium.
Dribbling the ball down the right wing and into the box, Zusi lifted his head to find forward Daniel Salloi darting into a dangerous position in the middle of the box. Slowing down to feign a pass, Zusi quickly darted toward the goal and away from Seattle's Nouhou Tolo before deftly chipping the ball over goalkeeper Stefan Frei to tie the game at 2-2.
Zusi's goal was the final drama of the afternoon, as the American helped Kansas City avoid an upset against the bottom-placed team in the MLS, with the game ending in a 2-2 tie.
“We didn’t bring our A-game today for sure,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said after the game. “Regardless of the stats and everything else, I just don’t think we were on top of our game.”
As usual, Sporting one-upped its opponents in shot total — 12-to-10 — with eight of those 12 shots being on frame. Not only was Kansas City superior in shooting, but an 85 percent pass accuracy combined with 58.7 percent of the game’s possession pointed the match to the host’s favor.
Yet, the leading defense in 2017 continued their 2018 struggles. Having now already conceded 11 goals, Vermes' men are over one third of the way to matching last’s season goals conceded total of 27, yet are only through seven games into 2018.
“I would categorize both goals as team mistakes,” Vermes said. “The first one’s lack of concentration and the second one’s a lack of effort.”
For the opposition, bottom-of-the-table Seattle reached its first positive step of the season, as the Sounders scored their first two goals of MLS play in 2018, finally bringing in a point after losing their first three games.
With U.S. Men's National Team forward Clint Dempsey unavailable for the Sounders due to suspension, Seattle came out of the dust for a respectable outcome against the Western Conference-leading Sporting KC. However, Sporting itself was also not at full force, with MLS joint-leading scorer Felipe Gutiérrez again absent from the lineup with a hip injury, prohibiting further threat from the home side.
“Is Felipe [Gutiérrez] a guy you’d like to have on the field? Sure. But the team’s got to be able to play, and this team has never been built around one player,” Vermes said.
Although the match did not pan out especially well, Vermes already sees clear improvements from last season.
“A game like tonight, unfortunately last year we would have lost and not finished the chances [at goal], and we’re tying them now,” Vermes said. “Other games we’re winning instead of tying because we are finishing off the high quality chances that we create, and we’re creating a lot of them.”
Still leading the conference with 14 points, Sporting will stay at home next weekend, hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps — tied at second place in the Western Conference with 10 points — on Friday night. Kansas City will look to counter Sunday's effort by picking up a victory and continuing its undefeated streak to seven games.