After the conclusion of a club-record home unbeaten streak, Sporting Kansas City forward Diego Rubio stood in front of his locker last weekend and described it as the most frustrating game of his career. A bevy of chances had fallen to him but produced zero goals.
The frustration returned once more Saturday.
But it was spread across the roster.
After Rubio broke through for an early lead, Sporting KC squandered an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot, settling for a 1-1 draw with Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Minnesota defender Brent Kallman scored in the 84th minute to equalize the score and secure the tie.
Worse yet, Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia — the leading candidate for the league’s goalkeeper of the year honor — departed early in the second half with an apparent right hamstring injury, the extent of which will be known over the next couple of days.
“The team played well — don’t get me wrong. But playing well is not enough,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “We gotta get the result. We didn’t get the result today.”
A victory would have clinched Sporting KC (12-7-12) its seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
It played the final six minutes of stoppage time with a man advantage after Minnesota’s Joseph Greenspan saw his second yellow card. Sporting KC produced a flurry of chances afterward — including a short-range header from midfielder Roger Espinoza — but couldn’t find the game-winner.
“We have to put the ball in the back of the net there,” Vermes said. “We have to score there, and we didn’t. We created too many good chances not to score.”
The action came after Melia’s exit. His injury was of the non-contact variety. Vermes initially classified it as a cramp but said more testing would be needed over the next two days.
“We’ll have to wait until it calms down a little bit,” Vermes said.
Melia appeared to reach for his hamstring. After initially attempting to walk it off and stay in the match, he instead had to depart the match, forcing Andrew Dykstra in for his club debut. Melia walked to the sideline on his own power, but with a noticeable limp.
Half an hour after Melia departed, Kallman got on the other end of Abu Danladi’s crossing pass with a header. Dykstra tipped the ball but didn’t get enough on it to push it over the bar.
Sporting KC trails first-place Vancouver by three points in the Western Conference standings, though it has three games remaining on its schedule. Vancouver has just two. That offers Sporting KC an opportunity to move into a first-place tie when it plays in Houston on Wednesday.
The top two seeds in the West will receive a first-round bye in the postseason.
Rubio attempted to put that possibility back in the picture. His strike in first-half stoppage time was the first shot on goal for Sporting KC, which for 45 minutes prolonged its road scoring woes. The club entered the match tied for a league low with seven away goals.
Rubio masked the problem shortly before halftime.
Shortly after it, the Melia injury provided a new quandary.
Melia had played every minute in goal for Sporting KC this season before leaving in the 59th minute. He leads all qualifying MLS keepers with a 0.80 goals against average and 78.1 save percentage. He is second in MLS with 10 shutouts.
Dykstra, acquired in the offseason via the re-entry draft, had not played an MLS match since March 6, 2016. He made one save in relief of Melia, playing behind a back line that was missing a pair of starters.
In all, six Sporting KC players were absent while on international duty, including three starters — captain Matt Besler, midfielder Benny Feilhaber and defender Graham Zusi. Their spots on the United States men’s national team pushed Jimmy Medranda, Erik Palmer-Brown and Saad Abdul-Salaam into the starting lineup.