With two different lineups in the two halves of their game last night against the Colorado Rapids, Sporting KC got two very different results. A 2-0 half time deficit was erased in the span of about 90 seconds in the second half after a red card to Colorado's Francisco Flores as the two teams finished 2-2 in the opener of the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson Arizona.
The first half saw Sporting put out a fairly first team lineup that included the likes of Luis Marin, Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, and Dom Dwyer. Unfortunately, Sporting really struggled to have meaningful possession in the first half, the midfield of Espinoza, James Marcelin, and Paulo Nagamura struggled with the creative side of play, and Dwyer ended up starved for service and really limited in the number of touches that he got. The Rapids meanwhile were able to throw numbers forward and in the 12th found the opener. After a switch of the field, the ball was played into the middle for Lucas Pittinari; Espinoza attempted to cut out the ball, but ran into referee Baldomero Toledo. Instead of continuing to play, Espinoza had a quick confrontation with Toledo, allowing Pittinari to slip the ball through to Gabriel Torres, who beat Marin to give the Rapids the lead. After that, Sporting had the better of possession, but really couldn't do anything going forward with it; Jacob Peterson and Connor Hallisey struggled to get forward from their wide positions leaving Dwyer really isolated. In the 17th minute, a poor pass by Besler led to a second goal for the Rapids. The ball got played over the top to Vicente Sanchez who had gotten behind Jalil Anibaba as the ball was played. Marin rushed off his line and out of the box to attempt to make the play, but missed, sliding past the Uruguayan. Now with a 2 on 1 with just Anibaba back, Sanchez played it into the middle for Dominique Badji, who tapped the ball into the empty net to make it 2-0 for Colorado. KC controlled much of the possession over the rest of the first half, but couldn't create anything in the way of real dangerous chances, not really testing Zac MacMath in the Colorado net.
Half time saw the team make full changes to the starting 11, and the changes in midfield were immediately noticed. Instead of three more defensive minded midfielders, Sporting inserted players with a tendency more to attack with the likes of Benny Feilhaber and Jimmy Medranda sitting in front of Servando Carrasco who played the defensive midfield position. Sporting was able to get forward a lot more in the half, and spent the majority of the half deep in Colorado's end. Krisztian Nemeth and Bernardo Anor both were threats throughout the half for KC. Feilhaber was playing some fantastic long balls, switching fields at ease. Colorado's defense though was holding out well, keeping KC out of the goal. But in the 75th minute, Flores picked up his second yellow after kicking the ball away for a KC free kick. KC immediately took advantage of the man advantage as Medranda was played into the box and fouled by Shane O'Neill. Nemeth stepped up and put Kansas City within one in the 77th minute. Only a minute later, Sporting was level. A nice cross from the corner was brought down by Anor in the box. He worked his way around two defenders before toe poking a ball past MacMath at his near post to tie the game at 2-2. With the momentum and the man advantage, Sporting continued to press for the final 12 minutes of the game but were unable to find a winner as the game ended with a 2-2 draw.
While it's always hard with a preseason game to gauge how some things went on the field and how some teams played, there were certainly some players that stood out and some that didn't have great nights. Most of the positives came from the second half, with the previously mentioned Anor, Feilhaber, and Nemeth all having good performances. But another one that I didn't mention was teenager Erik Palmer-Brown, who I thought looked very composed on the ball last night and strong defensively. In the first half, I thought Kevin Ellis did a decent job of getting up the field for KC from his right back position, a spot he'll try to make his own with Chance Myers still recovering from his Achilles injury. As for those that stood out for the wrong reasons, I have to look at the likes of Marcelin, whose passing looked really poor much of the night, and the team's starting center back pairing of Besler and Anibaba. I'm willing to give those two a little bit of slack though because Besler and Anibaba haven't gotten a whole lot of time together yet with Besler away at national team camp. Sporting will be back on the field on Saturday to take on the Seattle Sounders in their second game of the Desert Diamond Cup.