Sporting Kansas City (2-4-4, 10 points) stumbled to a narrow 1-0 defeat at D.C. United (7-3-2, 23 points) on a dreary Sunday night at Audi Field. U.S. international midfielder Paul Arriola decided an evenly contested battle in the nation’s capital with an impressive curling strike on 78 minutes, condemning Sporting to their second straight loss and extending the club’s winless run to six league matches.
An opportunity for Sporting to reclaim their winning form presents itself Saturday as a three-game homestand begins against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3-5-3, 12 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the Western Conference clash are available at SeatGeek.com and the first 5,000 fans through the Children’s Mercy Park gates will receive a clear Sporting bag courtesy of Children’s Mercy. The match will also air live on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.
Four days after returning to Kansas City in a trade from the Colorado Rapids, midfielder Benny Feilhaber jumped straight into the starting XI to officially begin his second stint at Sporting. The 34-year-old playmaker was one of three lineup changes from last weekend’s home loss to Atlanta United FC, as Nicolas Hasler and Ilie Sanchez replaced Graham Zusi and Kelyn Rowe, respectively. In defense, left back Seth Sinovic reached a notable milestone with his 200th career MLS start.
With 10 players out injured-including integral veterans Matt Besler (hamstring), Roger Espinoza (knee), Andreu Fontas (calf) and Graham Zusi (oblique)-Sporting dressed just 15 players for Sunday’s match, three fewer than the standard 18. Despite the added challenges of operating with a thin squad, Sporting kept D.C. at bay during the early stages. Talismanic D.C. forward Wayne Rooney was the first to test Tim Melia in the 14th minute, but the Sporting goalkeeper did brilliantly to dive at full extension and push aside the Englishman’s sweetly struck free kick from 25 yards.
The visitors quickly responded with a chance of their own as Krisztian Nemeth accelerated into the attacking third and spread the ball left to an open Daniel Salloi, who dragged a left-footed shot across D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid and wide of the far post at the quarter-hour mark.
Melia stoned D.C. once more in the 32nd minute, sprawling low to block Steve Birnbaum’s snap header off a Rooney corner kick and reacting quickly to smother Frederic Brillant’s rebound attempt on the doorstep. The moment foreshadowed a wave of United pressure for the remainder of the half, but Sporting weathered the storm-evening asking questions of Hamid via Russell’s bending free kick-and the sides entered halftime scoreless.
Russell and Hasler combined intricately on the right side of the box to carve out a terrific look in the 50th minute, the latter finding Nemeth with a clever pullback pass along the endline. The Hungarian’s first-time strike was destined for the roof of the net, but a leaping Hamid touched the 12-yard piledriver over the bar.
An increasingly heavy deluge of rain made for difficult playing conditions as a physical, delicately poised affair simmered into the final half-hour. D.C. threatened on yet another Rooney corner in the 62nd minute, with Birnbaum creating separation and nodding goalward to force Melia into a reflex stop at the near post.
Birnbaum was then responsible for keeping Sporting off the scoresheet in the 67th minute, sliding heroically to block Russell’s shot following a clever give-and-go with Nemeth. On the ensuing corner kick, Graham Smith rose above the rest and steered a powerful header on target, only to see Hamid make an outstanding save to deny the Sporting center back his first career MLS goal.
Sporting fell victim to a brilliant individual effort from Arriola with 12 minutes remaining. The diminutive winger settled a diagonal pass from Rooney on the left edge of the box, cut the ball onto his favored right foot and uncorked a wicked curler into the far corner for his third goal of the campaign and the 11th of his MLS career.
Nemeth was afforded a chance to equalize instantly when he pounced on a United giveaway and carried the ball toward goal on the breakaway, but his near-post sledgehammer failed to test Hamid and skied wayward. A final roll of the dice saw Smith nod wide after connecting with substitute Kelyn Rowe’s teasing service into a crowded box in the 95th minute.