A few days into September, as Sporting Kansas City approached its most critical home stand of the season, there was perhaps a break of character, ever so slight as it might have been. There were those who departed from the typical one-game-at-a-time mantra, acknowledging the bigger picture — four matches at Children’s Mercy Park in 15 days — could dictate the success of the season.
Such a good start.
Such a lackluster ending.
Vancouver handed Sporting Kansas City its first home defeat in 18 months, a 1-0 result Saturday in front of a crowd of 18,990.
Sporting KC (12-7-11) had not lost an MLS match at home since May 27, 2016, a club-record span of 24 matches, the third longest streak in league history.
But the stakes were higher than that. After wins in the first three matches of the home stand — one of which produced the U.S. Open Cup championship — Sporting KC squandered an opportunity to move atop the Western Conference standings, instead falling four points behind Vancouver with just three weeks left in the regular season.
“We made it a little difficult on ourselves moving forward,” defender Ike Opara said. “But I don’t think it’s the end of the world or anything. It’s frustrating because we did all the right things tonight but just didn’t break through.”
Vancouver forward Erik Hurtado scored the only goal in the 53rd minute, a volley lofted over goalkeeper Tim Melia’s hand that came against the run of play.
Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. Before the goal, Sporting KC had owned 78 percent of the possession and placed six shots on target. Hurtado’s shot was the first one on goal for Vancouver (14-10-6).
“The game was lost in that first 30 minutes,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “The fact that we had some incredible looks … we had to stick them away.”
That trend started with a penalty kick.
A video review awarded Sporting KC a penalty kick in the 10th minute — correcting a call that initially ruled a foul occurred outside the box — but striker Diego Rubio slammed the ensuing shot off the left post.
An omen for his night. Five minutes later, Graham Zusi offered Rubio a second chance, sending a cross in front of the goal. Rubio dived to head the ball on target, but Vancouver keeper Stefan Marinovic made a quick-reaction save, one of seven he made in the shutout.
Rubio finished with five shots on goal in the match. Zusi also hit a free kick off the crossbar.
“I haven’t had that happen in a long time,” Rubio said of the flow of his night. “It’s the first time here. I hope it’s the last time.”
It grew worse.
Zusi was shown a red card in second-half stoppage time. He will miss the next match, and considering he’s a likely call-up to the United States men’s national team Sunday, he could miss the next three. Vancouver’s Christian Bolanos received a red-card ejection two minutes later, and the game finished with 10 men per side, though it was only briefly played that way.
Sporting KC captain Matt Besler sat out because of a gash over his right eye, a laceration he suffered a week ago that required stitches. The concern was heading the ball would open the wound. He’s also a potential call-up to the national team, which would cause him to miss the next two Sporting KC matches.
The club has four games left in the regular season, only one of which will be played at Children’s Mercy Park.
“Today is a step back, but we’ll refocus,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “This team is capable of winning on the road as well as at home.”