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article imageSporting KC outplay 10-man TFC but the Reds still earn a point

By Tyrrell Meertins     May 24, 2014 in Sports
Sporting Kansas City’s team sheet suggested that Toronto FC were favoured to upset the reigning Major League Soccer champions at Sporting Park.
Sporting KC were without all five centre-backs, including Matt Besler and star winger Graham Zusi, but Peter Vermes was able to call upon in-form striker –– who scored eight goals in 11 appearances prior to kickoff –– Dominic Dwyer.
Ryan Nelsen handed newly acquired midfielder Collen Warner his TFC debut on the left flank for the injured Jonathan Osorio. The TFC manager also opted to stick with the Kyle Bekker and Bradley Orr midfield duo, while Nick Hagglund also remained in the starting XI.
This season, TFC has struggled against sides that operate in a 4-3-3, and here, Sporting KC dominated the match by overloading central areas. Toni Dovale and Dwyer served as additional passing outlets with their movement into central areas –– to receive the ball in pockets of space ––and it enabled midfield shuttlers Paulo Nagamura and Alex Martinez to comfortably retain possession and surge forward.
Meanwhile, despite Gilberto’s willingness to close down deep-lying midfielder Benny Felihaber in the opening minutes, the Brazilian gradually neglected his defensive duties. An unmarked Felihaber dictated the tempo of the match, completing 92 passes with an 88 per cent passing rate. The 29-year-old created Sporting KC’s best opportunity in the first half, as he was free to play an immaculate ball into half-space –– behind Mark Bloom –– to Jacob Peterson, but his cut-back pass to Dwyer saw Steven Caldwell admirably block the 23-year-old striker’s effort.
We didn't play very well, but we were solid," Nelsen said.
As expected, the home-side controlled majority of the possession, but although they exploited pockets of space in the final third –– due to poor positioning from Bekker –– Vermes’ men lacked penetration in the final third. Sporting KC, however, took the lead in the opening minutes of the second half following a terrific Dwyer strike. Although Vermes’ men failed to get behind TFC’s defence, a top-class Dwyer finish handed Sporting KC the lead.
Nelsen immediately turned to his bench to replace the uninspiring Alvaro Rey and Bekker for Daniel Lovitz –– who played on the left flank and pushed Warner alongside Orr –– and Luke Moore. Within minutes, Kevin Ellis accidentally nodded a simple Justin Morrow ball into the path of Defoe, and the England international ran at the heart of the Sporting KC back four before sliding a ball into the box for Gilberto, but he directed his shot into the side netting.
Throughout the match, Sporting KC’s makeshift back four were vulnerable against TFC’s transitions. Warner’s ability to win the ball and instantly join the attack, along with Defoe’s pace and goal threat tormented the home-side’s defence. Warner negated right-back Igor Juliao’s threat, but Nelsen’s decision to place the former Montreal Impact player in his preferred midfield role enabled him to limit Felihaber’s distribution from deep areas. TFC’s equalizer was created through a quick transition subsequent to Steven Caldwell’s dismissal. Warner picked up a loose ball in midfield before evading a few challenges and spreading the play to the on-rushing Defoe, and the 31-year-old striker turned provider and slid a pass into Moore who recorded his second goal for the club.
Caldwell’s dismissal forced TFC to sit in a 4-4-1 for the remainder of the match, and although the Reds’ work ethic without the ball forced Vermes’ men to shoot from distance, a clumsy challenge by substitute Doneil Henry on Juliao awarded Sporting KC a penalty. However, in the dying minutes of the match, Orr nodded Hagglund’s looping cross into the box past goalkeeper Erin Kronberg to earn TFC a valuable point.
“This is a major step forward for us," Nelsen said. "I sat here last year when we were down to 10 men, we just buckled as a team. Here, we showed so much character and heart and to come to a place like this and take a point is extremely pleasing. Now we go home with two home games coming up in a nice situation.”
TFC’s inability to retain possession, and provide adequate service for Defoe impeded their chance of claiming maximum points. Although Hagglund and Warner produced solid performances, and Nelsen’s side were devastating in transition, the Reds rarely tested Sporting KC’s makeshift back four.
“We’re disappointed with the result,” Vermes said. “We felt like we should have walked away with three points. We had the run of play, and we had good possession. We just made two mistakes … and they both led to goals.”
Nonetheless, for all of Sporting KC’s dominance in possession, and the clever positioning of Nagamura and Dovale, Vermes’ men lacked the required penetration and incisiveness to threaten a disjointed TFC side.
Both sides will rue their performances and squandered opportunities at Sporting Park.
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