Two slumping teams took points out of Sporting Park on Tuesday, but in a match that was nearly a textbook game of two halves, neither team may be entirely happy with the result. Left drawn 1-1 after 90 minutes, Kansas City and New York — the top two finishers in last year’s Eastern Conference regular season — each snared a valuable point, but with one team failing to defend home turf, the other drawing against a depleted host, both may rue the lost opportunity to take advantage of a potential playoff foe.
After 45 minutes in Kansas, New York looked willing to help Sporting through its late spring woes. The defending MLS champions, without its two best players and with mounting injury woes, were winless in three ahead of the Red Bulls’ visit, a streak that was in danger of being snapped after Toni’s ninth minute goal. Somehow, despite the absences of Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Chance Myers and Oriol Rosell, New York was managing to make Sporting look like their former selves.
With an early second half goal, however, Bradley Wright-Phillips (pictured, showed that the likes of Igor Julião where capable of keeping New York close. Three feet behind the rest of his defense on a Thierry Henry through ball, Julião allowed Wright-Phillips’s 11th of the season to retake MLS’s goal-scoring lead, paving the way for the second chapter in a tale of two halves. Though Sporting regained control over the match’s final 10-12 minutes, the Red Bulls eventually saw seeing out the draw, snapping their three-game losing streak in the process.
In light of the comeback, it will be tempting for New York to forget the first half, not that it necessarily should. With left back Roy Miller away at the World Cup, head coach Mike Petke seems unable to try Bobby Convey in central midfield again, leaving him hamstrung partnering Eric Alexander with Dax McCarty. Each time he does that, however, the gap between McCarty and Henry only seems to grow. Tonight, a Sporting team with a patchwork defense kept their opponents from consistently cracking it by being better in the middle, even though Alexander had one of his better games this month.
Péguy Luyindula played the last 33 minutes, giving Petke another potential, returning option. Without him, a clicking Tim Cahill (which we haven’t seen this year), or that midfielder Petke wanted in the offseason, New York can’t take advantage of opportunities like tonight’s. It’s also unclear that can reach last year’s heights given more competition at the top of the Eastern Conference.
As for Sporting, the match gets them one game closer to the end of this run. Given the injuries and absences Peter Vermes is facing, all he can do is stay above water until July. Then, when his leaders come back, he can figure out how exactly his team is going to defend its title.