Sporting KC, Toronto looking to bounce back

Two clubs playing on short rest will square off Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, as Sporting Kansas City hosts defending MLS champion Toronto FC.

Sporting (9-4-5, 32 points) will play its third match in eight days and Toronto will play its third in seven days. KC’s nine-match unbeaten streak (including two Open Cup matches) ended June 30 with a loss at Montreal before allowing three straight first-half goals in a 4-2 loss at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

Toronto (4-10-3, 15 points) fell 4-3 at Minnesota United on Wednesday. It was the third league match that Toronto has allowed at least four goals and the fifth in which the opposition has scored at least three goals in an MSL game. Toronto has now allowed 34 goals in 17 games, fourth most in MLS.

Even with two straight losses, the 32 points put Sporting in second place in the Western Conference table, three points behind FC Dallas and a point ahead of LAFC.

Toronto, however, has struggled since winning the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield in 2017. It is one position above the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference. It has struggled, particularly away from home, where it stands just 1-6-1.

Sporting has been nearly perfect at home, turning in a 6-1-2 record. The lone loss was in the season’s first match against New York City FC. KC has outscored its opponents 14-3 in its last five matches at home.

Sporting scored first on a one-timer by Daniel Salloi against Real Salt Lake before allowing three goals. Salloi’s goal was his team-leading sixth of the season. Sporting pulled one back on a beautiful cross from Johnny Russell to Ike Opara, but that’s as close as KC could get.

Its chances of a comeback were hurt with late red cards to Salloi and Roger Espinoza.

“We shouldn’t have (given) up two goals in the first half, and then the third one just killed us,” a terse Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said in a post-match interview. “You can’t come back from deficits like that all the time.”

Asked what his club has to do to end the short slide, he simply said, “We have to score more goals than the other team.”

Toronto has lost three straight one-goal matches. In Wednesday’s match in Minnesota, Toronto fell behind 4-1 in the second half before two late goals drew it within one goal. But Toronto could not make it all the way back. Darwin Quintero scored a hat trick for Minnesota.

“By and large, the response when we’ve been down has been good,” Toronto midfielder and team captain Michael Bradley said after the match. “The issue is that we go behind too often. We don’t give ourselves a chance at the beginning of games.

“The positive is we’re only halfway done. For as poor as we’ve been for 17 games, we have 17 more games to go after things and to put it right.”

Toronto also does not have the offense it demonstrated last season, when it led MLS with 74 goals scored and a plus-37 goal differential. Toronto is led by Victor Vazquez and Jonathan Osorio with five goals each. Nobody else has more than three goals.

Halfway through the season, Toronto has scored just 27 goals, tied for 10th in MLS.

Sporting Kansas City will be without Salloi, who received a straight red card in the 90th minute, and Espinoza, who received his second yellow of the match in stoppage time against Real Salt Lake.