Sporting Falls to Reigning Champion Atlanta
Sporting Kansas City's home unbeaten run was snapped at 10 regular season matches in a 3-0 defeat to Atlanta United FC on Sunday night at Children's Mercy Park. Josef Martinez scored twice and Ezequiel Barco added a goal and two assists as the reigning MLS Cup champions (3-3-2, 11 points) handed Sporting (2-3-4, 10 points) their first regular season home loss since July 2018.
With eight players out injured and midfielder Gianluca Busio joining the United States U-17 Men's National Team for the Concacaf U-17 Championship, Manager Peter Vermes fielded a reshuffled lineup against the reigning MLS Cup champions. Among the four changes from last weekend's 4-4 draw against the New England Revolution was 23-year-old center back Graham Smith, who earned his first appearance of the season and the third of his MLS career. Veteran Seth Sinovic returned for his first league start since March 31, while Hungarian duo Botond Barath and Daniel Salloi also stepped back into the fray.
An early foray from the hosts saw Graham Zusi unleash a long-range curler that carried marginally beyond goalkeeper Brad Guzan's right-hand post. Shortly thereafter, Atlanta's Pity Martinez cut centrally onto his left foot and dragged a low shot wide of the near post.
Krisztian Nemeth entered the night with a team-best 10 goals for Sporting in all competitions and could have recorded his 11th off a Johnny Russell corner kick in the 13th minute, but his glancing header on the edge of the six-yard box missed the mark.
A cagey first half saw neither side gain a foothold until Atlanta surged ahead on 39 minutes. An incisive pass from Darlington Nagbe set Ezequiel Barco free in the attacking third, where the Argentine youngster exploited space and pulled the trigger from 25 yards. The venomous blast was palmed into the air by Melia, but Josef Martinez was on hand to slot home the rebound from close range.
Sporting probed twice in quick succession on the cusp of intermission, but Kelyn Rowe's thunderous effort from the top of the box was blocked and Nemeth's 22-yard curler skimmed over the woodwork.
Atlanta doubled their advantage two minutes after the restart. Sporting failed to clear a loose ball at the top of the penalty area and a shot fell invitingly to Barco, who made no mistake with a low laser into the left corner. Melia did well to thwart the 20-year-old nine minutes later, then produced another reflex stop on a Miles Robinson strike.
Russell provided Sporting's best look of the night in the 73rd minute, weaving onto his favored left foot and forcing Guzan into a leaping save with a bending drive that was destined for the top left corner. Less than a minute later, substitute Ilie Sanchez lifted an open shot over the bar from 18 yards.
Josef Martinez bagged his second of the night and the 58th of his prolific three-year MLS career in the 76th minute, settling Barco's pass and hammering high into the net to round out a bitter evening for Vermes' side.
Another Eastern Conference opponent awaits next Sunday as Sporting visits Audi Field for the first time to battle English soccer legend Wayne Rooney and D.C. United (6-3-2, 20 points) in the nation's capital. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT on FS1.
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes
On the team's injuries...
The problem is I don't have the whole team available. It's not just one guy. When you have a team - and every team has their starters - to then have to supplant all those guys with new players, it's very hard. I can start with the players that we have. We have Botond (Barath). We have Gedion (Zelalem), who was in the game. We have (Kelyn) Rowe, who was in the game. We have (Nicolas) Hasler on the team now. Just those guys alone, they just got here. It's their first year with the team. It's hard in a short period of time to have them now all of a sudden carry the burden of everything. Usually what happens is you make a couple of switches to the lineup, two or three guys, and the difference is the supporting cast can hold them up because they've been through so many games together. The problem now is that we've got so many guys out. Even Ilie, at the end of the day I shouldn't have even played him tonight. He didn't train all week. He didn't train one day. But we needed something else to give us a little push forward. The other thing, too, is that the guys that have been playing, this is the time where you would have used all of the other players that you have available to give them a rest in certain games. It would be two here or three there and you would keep them hungry and fresh. Right now, we can't even make any changes because we can't even put 18 guys together. Today, it should have only been 14, not 15, like I said with Ilie.
Thoughts on the match...
It's easy to say the result was not good. There were some moments where we were fine. We were organized. But we really weren't overly dangerous today. Some of that is because we had drop back deeper. They're a very dangerous team going forward. I still submit that even the goals today, they weren't anything special. They were more (about) things that we didn't do. That's what happens to you when you lose confidence and you don't have a lot of players on the field that have been through this kind of stuff before.
On moving forward with a depleted roster...
We have got to keep working. I don't have another solution. It's nothing we can change. It's not like we can go, 'You know what, these guys didn't work' so we're changing to these other guys. We just don't have the bodies. So we've got to keeping working and getting these guys better and better and better. We have to keep trying to stay alive. That's just the way it is.
On the team's tactical approach...
We were dropped off a little bit more because they're a very good attacking team with space in behind. For the most part, we did a pretty good job of handling that. We have to be a little different based on the personnel that we have at the moment.
On turning things around in the upcoming home stretch...
The only thing I'm thinking about is the next game. That's it. I'm hoping that we can add a few more guys back into the mix and slowly build from there. When you have 9-10 people out that are injured and are starters on a regular basis, it's not like you're a magician and you can suddenly come up with something. The players, you have to work with them. You have to make those guys better. It's not like they're bad players. That's not the idea. The idea is that they're the ones who aren't getting the rhythm of game after game. If you're interchanging two or three guys for a game here or there, that's great. When you have to change as many as we are right now, there's just no continuity. When you play a lot of games consecutively together as a group of guys, you also build confidence and you build understandings - all those things that just weren't there (tonight). It's going to take time. I can't tell you how much time and I can't tell you what the results are going to be, I just know that we're in this and we've got to keep working to get ourselves out of it.
On the team's mental focus...
When you look at other guys - Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth, Felipe Gutierrez - it would be at this time based on what we've gone through until now since we've basically played half of a season already but we haven't played half a season because we played all the Champions League games, you would at this point change a few guys in and out for them to get a mental rest, to keep them fresh and hungry, to take them away from it for a little bit and not have to carry that for consecutive games or weeks. But right now, we don't have any other choice.
Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Nemeth
On the team's attacking opportunities...
(We had) a couple of chances. I think in the beginning, tactically we were pretty good. We didn't have that many chances, but we had a couple. They didn't have chances until the first goal. I think the first half, if we had more concentration then we probably could have kept it at 0-0. I don't believe this game was 3-0 for them. They scored the first one and after that it was difficult to come back. We don't have to panic now. We have to stay positive. We have a lot of games still. We have to come back stronger than what we are now.
On the team's attitude...
The whole team has to do better. Right now, we're a little bit down. I'm not saying everything is good, of course. We can not be negative and just think about the negative things. We did today a couple of things very well. We have to keep pushing. That's how soccer works. It's going to change. One game, we'll start to score and start to have clean sheets and everything will be better. We'll have confidence and win games. This is how it's going to be. I'm very positive. We have very good players and a very good squad so we have to keep our heads up and keep working hard.
On bouncing back...
It's not easy, but we have some experienced players and we have to believe in ourselves. We have to believe in our team. That's what we have to do. We have no other choice. We have games. We have to go to the field and win games. That's how Sporting is normally. We have to come back to that way.
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia
On his overall thoughts of the match...
I thought we were really good and really organized for the first 40 minutes. I thought the guys who (played) who haven't had a lot of minutes did a really good job. No one got in behind us, which is obviously something we've been working on. There's a long shot from distance, I don't deal well with the rebound and it kind of changes the game. But this is where we are at the moment. There's no quick fix to this by any means. We all need to play better, myself included, because we are a quality team. We've put ourselves in this hole, but it's nine games into the season. We have a long way to go and we can easily right the ship. We've just got to start doing the little things better, get back to being a really good defensive team and get on the front foot again.
On Sporting's upcoming run of matches in May...
Right now we can't look ahead at all. We've got to concentrate on our first day back at training and make sure we're building up correctly to the game against D.C. We've just got to get back to being us and look at it one game at a time. We need to be honest that we're not playing well, and once we acknowledge that, we'll start to move things in the right direction because it's not a quality issue. We can get ourselves out of this hole.
On the keys to Sporting bouncing back...
Whenever you're facing struggles, it's not like you're going to wake up tomorrow and everything's going to be all bright. We need to work and claw our way out of this with our work ethic. We need to make sure we're competing-that's got to be our main goal, just to compete every game for 90 minutes plus. The quality is here, we've just got to be back to being us.
Atlanta United FC Head Coach Frank de Boer
On if that was the team's best performance of the season...
Result and how we played, I think yes. I think against Dallas we really played also really good but we didn't get the reward. Now we get the reward. I'm very pleased, it was a very solid performance, we created our chances, we almost gave nothing away, we were confident on the ball - this is what you want to see of course from our team.
On the importance of starting a tough stretch of games positively...
Yeah, we just mentioned and Parky (Michael Parkhurst) in his motivational speech he said also we are now into a long stretch to play games and it's crucial to start well, to get the confidence for that period. I think this is going to give a lot of confidence for the guys.
On Ezequiel Barco's performance before he heads off to join Argentina's U-20s for the FIFA U-20 World Cup...
Yeah, it's a pity that he will leave because, okay, last year he struggled sometimes and now you really see what he's capable of. He's getting strong, you see in one against ones, he's protecting the ball well, making good decisions. It's bad for us because you want one of your best players in form, you want to keep of course. Others have to stand up in that moment, I have confidence in all the other ones. It's a pity that he's not here but we have another Pity (Martinez) so he has to make the difference.
On Pity Martinez's improved performance...
You cannot expect that suddenly he will play his best, it's step-by-step and he's getting the rhythm of MLS and the confidence to get back and he show already some highlights that this is the Pity that we want. He's coming there so hopefully on Wednesday against Toronto it's another step forward.
On pushing the fullbacks high up the field...
It depends, sometimes you want to do that. I think with Parky (Michael Parkhurst) he feels comfortable in that moment, then you have a guy that can play one-against-one like Barco on that side, so they have to rotate and alternate - okay if somebody goes inside, the other one has to go outside, they can never stay in the same line. For me, that's basics of football.
On if playing Michael Parkhurst at left back was to give Brek Shea a break...
In my point of view and also from my staff, I think Russell is one of the most gifted players of this team and he's coming inside and then he comes in on the right foot of Michael Parkhurst, so that combination we thought was suited better than Brek. We're going to have a long period so it was just a feeling of okay maybe this is suited better. He's an intelligent player and you can use him in a lot of places and now he did a great job to play as a left fullback.
On how the win will help morale despite Sporting KC's long injury list...
That's for every team, it's crucial to have these kind of moments to boost, especially against a very good team. Okay, they had a lot of injures but they had almost every player that normally also played, maybe in the back they struggled a little bit but still they had a lot of quality on the pitch. I think we dominated in every aspect today and that's very positive and that gives a boost to the confidence of our team.
Atlanta United FC midfielder Ezequiel Barco
Thoughts on the match...
First off, we needed this win. It feels good. That's the most important thing.
On leaving for international duty while the team is in good form...
I just want to take advantage of the opportunity. In times past, I've had to pass it up. So I just wants to do the best I can.
On his goal...
If you look back at it, it's a play that started all the way at the back. With a little luck, it landed right in front of me. The play was almost dead and I felt comfortable enough to take the shot.
On creating space for his shot...
The intention was to give it to Josef (Martinez), but luckily the guy coughed it right back out.
On finding his footing...
I've been put in a position where I can shine a little bit more, and it has been working out so far.
On the team regaining confidence...
Obviously it hadn't been going well at the beginning, but you're seeing the work we put in week in and week out. Luckily, we got three points today and we just have to keep going in that direction.
Atlanta United FC goalkeeper Brad Guzan
Thoughts on the performance...
(It was our) most complete performance. From start to finish, I thought we were excellent. It was a professional performance. We were patient. We didn't turn the ball over easily. We didn't try to force passes. Goals change games and Josef (Martinez) again puts his body on the line for the first one - a great goal. His second one was even better.
On the upcoming stretch of games...
When you play a lot of games like this back to back in a row it's important to get off to a good start. But, also for the confidence going into the other games, when you play well as we did tonight, you're ready for the next one. Mentally, it becomes easier to play that amount of games in that amount of time. It's a good start. It doesn't mean we're the best team in the league. It doesn't mean everything you guys are going to write. It means that we've had a good start to this set of games, and we've got to keep going.
On losing Ezequiel Barco to the U20 World Cup...
We've known that this is a possibility of him going. We've got talented guys on our bench that can step in and not only do a job but carry where he's left off because I thought he was great again tonight. His work rate on the ball, his vision, his ability to play vertical at times was very good. It'll obviously be a miss. We want to make sure that he stays healthy down there but it's a huge honor to represent your country at a World Cup, so we wish him all the best. It's down to us as a group to fill in his replacement.
On who will replace Ezequiel Barco...
I might. Did you see me play with my feet tonight? You would think Tito (Villalba) probably would be a natural option. That will be up to the coaching staff.
On Pity Martinez's play tonight...
I thought he found good spots in the game. I thought he played simple. He didn't try to do too much. I thought he was very good. His work rate when he lost the ball and when we lost the ball, to help (Ezequiel) Barco when Barco was on one side of the pitch and he had to get to the other. Josef (Martinez) was tracking back and defending. From top to bottom, it was a proper professional performance in a tough place and I couldn't be happier for the guys in front of me.
On Michael Parkhurst starting as a left back...
I thought he was very good. He's going to need about four weeks to recover, but he was very good. He's the type of guy you can ask to play anywhere, and he'll do the job. He's very good. It's not down to his athleticism. It's down to his brain and his ability to understand the game and understand different positions, understand different things being asked of him. For someone to go out and be asked to play fullback in the system and style of how we want to play and how our fullbacks want to get forward, I thought he was very good. Big props to him.
On preparing for Sporting KC...
You watch a lot of their tape and they play a bit of a high press. They try to get after teams and they're good at that. We didn't know what to expect. Obviously, we knew that the personnel were going to be different, but in saying that, Peter always seems to have them organized and disciplined and set up in way that allows them to be successful. We knew that the style wasn't going to change. At moments they pressed us. At other (times) they sat off. In those moments, we had to be good because too many times this year teams have sat off and we haven't been good with the ball. That's when teams have gone the other way and punished us with one or two chances. Tonight, we were very good with the ball. Our spacing was good and guys worked their socks off.
2019 MLS Regular Season
Game 9 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 69 degrees and clear
Score 1 2 F
Sporting Kansas City (2-3-4, 10 points) 0 0 0
Atlanta United FC (3-3-2, 11 points) 1 2 3
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi (C), Botond Barath, Graham Smith, Seth Sinovic; Felipe Gutierrez, Yohan Croizet (Ilie Sanchez 65'), Kelyn Rowe (Gedion Zelalem 65'); Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth, Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Nicolas Hasler, Abdul Rwatubyaye
Atlanta United FC: Brad Guzan; Franco Escobar, Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst (C); Eric Remedi (Jeff Larentowicz 71'), Darlington Nagbe; Julian Gressel, Pity Martinez (Tito Villalba 71'), Ezequiel Barco; Josef Martinez (Brek Shea 81')
Subs Not Used: Alec Kann, Florentin Pogba, Dion Pereira, Jon Gallagher
ATL -- Josef Martinez 3 (unassisted) 39'
ATL -- Ezequiel Barco 4 (unassisted) 47'
ATL -- Josef Martinez 4 (Ezequiel Barco 1) 76'
ATL -- Eric Remedi (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 66'
Stat SKC ATL
Shots 10 19
Shots on Goal 3 8
Saves 5 3
Fouls 12 5
Offsides 2 1
Corner Kicks 4 5
Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant Referee: Logan Brown
Assistant Referee: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho
Fourth Official: Rosendo Mendoza
VAR: Geoff Gamble
AVAR: Joshua Patlak
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