Still trying to fix its defensive shortcomings, Sporting KC looks to end a four-game winless streak Sunday when it hosts reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United.
Sporting (2-4-2) were fortunate to take a point from New England on April 27, twice rallying from two-goal deficits in a wild 4-4 draw. SKC took full advantage of playing 11-on-10 the final 35 minutes as Felipe Gutierrez scored two goals around one by DeJuan Jones before Krisztian Nemeth netted the equalizer on 83 minutes.
While the offensive effort was welcome, there is plenty of concern about Sporting KC’s defense, which has been shredded for eight goals in the last two matches and 19 overall. And facing the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez this weekend presents a difficult challenge in getting things right.
“They are absolutely loaded with talent,” defender Seth Sinovic told Sports Radio 810 WHB on Thursday. “Josef Martinez led the league in goals and broke the single-season goal scoring record last year. They have a lot of other (great) players, too, and for whatever reason they’re going through a little funk.
“Maybe it’s because they’re getting everyone’s best shot being the champion. We will definitely not take them lightly because they’re a team that’s waiting to burst out.”
Nemeth ended a five-game goal-scoring drought with his brace versus New England and five of his six goals in MLS play have come in two matches. The Hungarian striker has 10 goals in 12 matches overall.
Atlanta (2-2-3) does appear to be rounding into form with two wins in its last three matches after taking just two points from its first four. The Five Stripes recorded their first clean sheet at home April 27, beating Colorado 1-0 on Julian Gressel’s goal in the 74th minute.
United had 65 percent possession in the match, turning that into a 15-6 advantage in shots, with coach Frank de Boer pleased his team found a way through Colorado’s ultra-defensive set-up.
“They park two buses in front of their own goal. So, you saw second half was much better. We made more runs, the second half was much better. It’s difficult to play against this kind of system,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If you score an early goal, they have to come out and it’s an open game. They are coming for a result of one point, and with a little luck three points, that’s why I think this victory tastes very sweet.
“The team that deserved to win tonight got the three points.”
Martinez has yet to find his goal-scoring form from last season as he enters this match with just two goals and seven shots on target. Pity Martinez, the 2018 South American player of the year who was supposed to fill the playmaking role after Miguel Almiron left for Newcastle United, returned to the lineup last weekend after suffering a hamstring injury while on international duty for Argentina. Pity Martinez has yet to register a goal or an assist in six MLS matches and has one assist in 10 overall with United.
Sporting KC won 2-0 at Atlanta in the only match between the clubs last year as Ilie Sanchez set up second-half goals by Daniel Salloi and Gerso.
(Julian Gressel photo courtesy Atlanta United FC official Twitter account)
(Felipe Gutierrez photo courtesy Sporting KC official Twitter account)