The Columbus Crew gave up an early goal, held on for most of the game while occasionally threatening to equalize, but ultimately could not find the needed goal on Sunday afternoon. Claudio Bieler scored the clinching goal with seconds to play in stoppage time to hand Sporting Kansas City a 2-0 win.
Earning any sort of a result - even a draw - was always going to be a tall order at the home of the defending champions. Kansas City, in their sixth year under coach Peter Vermes, is a highly organized and disciplined team that can exploit slight advantages. Columbus, four games removed from their incredible 3-0 start, needed to play a nearly-perfect game.
Perfection proved unattainable on Sunday, however. Jacob Peterson converted a loose ball at the back post in the tenth minute, taking advantage of space after Josh Williams was drawn out of position on a goalmouth scramble.
Columbus had their first chance to equalize after half an hour when Wil Trapp sent a perfectly-placed cross from the right flank after a corner kick. Bernardo Anor made solid contact on the ball, but Eric Kronberg was able to punch the ball to a stop on the goal line.
Less than five minutes later goalkeeper Steve Clark produced a highlight-worthy save on Seth Sinovic, who ghosted into space behind Hector Jimenez and Josh Williams.
Jimenez was replaced at halftime as coach Gregg Berhalter inserted Dominic Oduro on the right flank. The change helped the Crew match the Kansas City organization in the second half, but still the team was unable to put Eric Kronberg under the type of pressure that Steve Clark repeatedly had to endure.
The Crew's chances to equalize were seriously diminished in the 80th minute when holding midfielder Wil Trapp - one of the team's most consistent performers since his debut late last season - was shown a second yellow card and ejected with ten minutes to play. Trapp's ability to consistently complete lateral passes has been crucial to the team's high possession strategy, and his defensive absence likely contributed to the game's final goal.
With seconds left in stoppage time, defender Michael Parkhurst softly chested a bouncing ball backwards, but lost possession to Soony Saad. Parkhurst was able to tackle the ball away, but only to Graham Zusi - who easily chipped across to an unmarked Claudio Bieler in front of an open net. It was a complete defensive collapse by a Crew team caught upfield looking for an equalizer.
Sunday's loss was the second in the team's first eight games of the season, but extends their winless streak to five games. After winning their first three games the team has now struggled consistently to replicate the sort of form that was so surprising and overpowering in victories over DC, Philadelphia, and Seattle.
Columbus will not have to wait long for a chance to forget this setback. The team next travels to Houston this Wednesday for their first midweek game of the season. That will be followed by a home game against Vancouver next Saturday.
Timeline of events
6' Corner kick, Kansas City (left side - Zusi, headed clear by Columbus)
10' 0-1 Jacob Peterson (unassisted)
28' Corner kick, Kansas City (right side - Zusi, punched by Clark)
30' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - Higuain, headed clear)
38' Caution, Lawrence Olum (professional foul on Federico Higuain)
41' Corner kick, Kansas City (right side - Zusi, kicked too long)
45' Caution, Wil Trapp (reckless tackle on Paulo Nagamura)
45' Dominic Oduro replaces Hector Jimenez
51' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - Higuain, too long)
52' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - Higuain, headed clear)
60' Soony Saad replaces Jacob Peterson
68' Caution, Seth Sinovic (professional foul on Dominic Oduro)
69' Justin Meram replaces Bernardo Anor
79' Alex Martinez replaces Paulo Nagamura
81' Caution, Wil Trapp (professional foul on Oriol Rosell)
81' Ejection, Wil Trapp (second caution)
82' Ethan Finlay replaces Wil Trapp
83' Corner kick, Kansas City (right side - Zusi, too long)
86' Caution, Ethan Finlay (professional foul)
87' Claudio Bieler replaces Dom Dwyer
87' Caution, Tony Tchani (unsportsmanlike conduct on Dom Dwyer)
92+ Caution, Benny Feilhaber (professional foul on Federico Higuain)
95+ 0-2 Claudio Bieler (Graham Zusi)
Steve Clark, Josh Williams, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Michael Parkhurst, Waylon Francis, Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani, Hector Jimenez (Dominic Oduro 45'), Federico Higuain, Bernardo Anor (Justin Meram 69'), Jairo Arrieta (Ethan Finlay 82')
Matt Lampson, Tyson Wahl, Eric Gehrig, Dan Paladini
Eric Kronberg, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Lawrence Olum, Chance Myers, Benny Feilhaber, Orio Rosell, Paulo Nagamura (Alex Martinez 79'), Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer (Claudio Bieler 87'), Jacob Peterson (Soony Saad 60')
Andy Gruenebaum, Igor Juliao, Toni, Jimmy Medranda