MLS New York Sporting KC Soccer

New York City defender Anton Tinnerholm, back, hangs on to Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kansas, on Sunday.

Already trailing 1-0 in its home opener, Sporting Kansas City players piled into the New York City FC box on Sunday night, prepared for an in-swinging cross as the seconds ticked closer to halftime.

As the fans geared up for perhaps the final chance of the first half, the ball was instead played diagonally to new signee Yohan Croizet on the halfway line. The forward got the ball trapped beneath his feet, facing his own goal, as a pair of NYC players bared down on him.

Croizet was quickly dispossessed by NYC captain David Villa, allowing the Spaniard to run toward Sporting KC’s goal, flanked on either side by teammates. Spoiled for choice and completely unaware of any impending danger, Villa took his time as he approached Sporting KC’s goal. But, sprinting 60 yards after Villa, Sporting KC defender Cristian Lobato sprung from behind Villa to clip the ball away from him and keep the game at 1-0. It proved to be the last play of the half.

“If he doesn’t make that play, we walk in 2-0 down at halftime, and it’s a completely different game,” said Sporting KC captain Matt Besler. “So yeah, he made a great play for us there.”

Kansas City went on to lose the game 2-0, thanks to a pair of goals from New York City’s Maximiliano Moralez and Jesus Medina.

In just its third home opener loss in franchise history, Sporting KC spent the majority of the game on the back foot, pinned back by the high press of NYC.

“We finally got possession and times they were just able to swarm us because they had numbers around us all offensively, and we couldn’t really break their pressure and we gave it right back instead of maybe trying to keep the ball in moments that are clearly obvious,” said Sporting KC defender Ike Opara. “Instead, we go for killer passes and turn it right back over and they were right back down our throats.”

The first 15 minutes of the game saw Kansas City generate no sort of offense, pushed back into its own half and offering little to cheer about for the home fans. The second 15 minutes showed a bit more promise for Kansas City, until NYC opened the scoring in the 32nd minute.

Holding the ball on the left wing, Villa stopped with the ball at his feet, freezing Opara to the spot. A quick touch took Villa past Opara, the 2017 MLS defensive player of the year, and allowed Villa to send a low ball into the six-yard box. From there, all Moralez had to do was tap it past Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia.

Little improved early in the second half either for Kansas City. Another NYC attack down the left flank, this time from defender Ben Sweat, allowed another low cross to be sent into the Sporting KC box. A beautiful first touch from Medina allowed the 20 year-old to head toward goal and flick the ball past Melia in front of The Cauldron to take a 2-0 lead.

“We knew that if we managed to find players in between the lines and we put the ball wide, having this kind of cutback will give them a problem and we’ve been working well in the last few days about it,” said NYC coach Patrick Vieira.

The goal prompted Kansas City coach Peter Vermes to make two attack-minded substitutes in the next 10 minutes, with forwards Gerso Fernandes and Daniel Salloi replacing the hapless Diego Rubio and Croizet, who looked like he was stranded on an island all game.

The introduction of Salloi especially invigorated the Kansas City offense, as he added plenty of speed and off-the-ball movement. Late in the game, the homegrown player won Kansas City a penalty, but it was quickly ruled out after referee Mark Geiger went to the Video Assistant Referee for a second look.

“I think right before [Salloi subbed in], we were already kind of going at them a little bit because it was in the second half,” Vermes said. “But he definitely came in and had great movement off the ball, which changed things a little bit.”

VAR was once again consulted merely minutes later, as a no-call on a foul was later deemed a free kick to Sporting KC on the edge of the box and a red card to NYC’s Maxime Chanot in the 88th minute. But midfielder Felipe Gutierrez could only ping the ball off the crossbar on the ensuing free kick, the closest Sporting KC came all game as it only put a total of four shots on target.

Sporting KC will next travel to the Chicago Fire on Saturday, with Vermes’ men set to play their first road game of the season. The match is set for a 5 p.m. kickoff.