Photo by USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
Throughout their run of five straight road victories, Sporting KC have taken full advantage of a dominating midfield and the hot form of forward Dom Dwyer to overrun the opposition.
The reigning MLS Cup champions had neither of those characteristics on Sunday night at BC Place, as Dwyer and Sporting KC were held scoreless in a 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. The hosts succeeded due to ferocious efforts from Designated Player midfielder Pedro Morales and forward Darren Mattocks, who scored his fourth goal in five games.
The game got off to a frustrating start for Sporting KC, who conceded the lead early via a 17th-minute Igor Juliao own goal defined by a lack of communication.
The goal came as a result of a Sebastian Fernandez long-distance pass, as the Whitecaps midfielder uncorked one from his own half towards the Sporting KC box. With goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum charging to claim, Juliao blindly opted to go for the headed back-pass, which soared over Gruenebaum before gently rolling into the Sporting KC goal for the game’s opener.
From that point forward, the visitors uncharacteristically struggled to maintain possession. Sporting KC lacked the sharpness that has come to define their recent run, as the reigning MLS Cup champions committed turnover after turnover in the midfielder. For their part, the Whitecaps continued to threaten the visitor’s goal, with Morales and Mattocks creating chances throughout the night.
The Whitecaps finally made them pay for their carelessness by adding a second just six minutes before halftime by way of Mattocks.
Taking advantage of a Matt Besler turnover in the midfield, the Whitecaps were off to the races with Morales and Mattocks leading the two-on-one charge. As the duo approached the Sporting KC box, Morales slid the ball to Mattocks, who took a touch and finished past Gruenebaum for the game’s second goal.
Sporting KC nearly allowed a third due to yet another turnover, but were saved by the heroics of Aurelien Collin’s last-ditch clearance just before halftime.
Colin was actually the main offender prior to his recovery, as the Sporting KC centerback turned over the ball in the center of the field. Morales once again led the Whitecaps charge before finding a darting Fernandez on the left side. Fernandez’s shot was deflected by Gruenebaum and was trickling towards goal, only for Collin to slide in and prevent the lead from moving to three.
It only got worse after the halftime whistle for Sporting KC, as Gruenebaum had to be substituted due to a shoulder injury. Gruenebaum was replaced by homegrown product John Kempin, who was forced into his MLS debut.
The 21-year-old goalkeeper ended up coming up huge late for the visitors by stopping an 85th minute penalty kick from Mattocks.
The Whitecaps were awarded a penalty as referee David Gantar determined Collin was a little bit too physical off a free kick during a tussle in the box with Whitecaps forward Omar Salgado.
Mattocks stepped up to take the ensuing penalty kick, but Kempin guessed correctly and dove to his left to prevent the Whitecaps from pushing the lead to three. However, Kempin’s heroics proved meaningless, as the Whitecaps held on to preserve the 2-0 victory.
With the victory, the Whitecaps pick up three crucial points that propel the Canadian side back into playoff contention. The Whitecaps will now look to build upon a victory over the reigning MLS Cup champions when they head to Los Angeles to take on Chivas USA Saturday. Meanwhile, Sporting KC will look to get their Supporters’ Shield campaign back on track when they begin a three-game home-stand next week against Toronto FC.