KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The road hasn't been particularly kind to Minnesota United this season. That's especially true for Kansas City, where Children's Mercy Park has been nothing but a blue-clad house of horrors.
Those trends ultimately continued with Sporting Kansas City's 2-0 victory over the Loons on a steamy Saturday night.
Minnesota United (9-15-2) is now winless in its last five matches, including four losses. The Loons still have only four points to show in 13 road matches, and have now been outscored 13-1 in four MLS contests in Kansas City.
And yet, all results aren't equal. Minnesota United outshot Sporting KC 16-12, (including an 8-4 advantage in shots on goal). It had more corners (6-3), and generally generated more and better scoring opportunities.
The problem was that none of it translated where it mattered most.
"There are levels of performance that you accept even when you lose games, and tonight was one of them nights," Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. "If you look at the game we had the two or three best chances… their keeper had to make more saves. It's the oldest saying in football: goals change games. They scored at really important times, and that was the disappointment, because I don't think they had to work hard enough for their two goals."
The Loons were successful at locking down Sporting KC (13-6-6) in the final third during the opening half. Many of the home side's shots came from distance, and both of goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth's first-half saves were routine.
Minnesota United left that defensive efficiency in the locker room.
Sporting KC forward Yohan Croizet came off the bench to start the second half and made an immediate impact. Croizet found space at the top of the 18-yard box, took a pass from winger Johnny Russell and scored in the 47th minute.
Russell also go the assist on Diego Rubio's 62nd-minute goal that pushed the score to 2-0.
"Their movement is really good, and that's the challenge of playing them, especially when you play them here," Minnesota United defender Brent Kallman said. "You've got to be focused and locked in for 90 minutes, because they punish you for mistakes, and that's exactly what they did."
The Loons continued to test Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia down the stretch, forcing him to make a handful of diving saves. They also thudded one shot of the crossbar.
It was still a loss. But it's also a step in the right direction.
"When you think about the other games we've played here, you could use the word embarrassing. I think we can hold our heads high," Kallman said. "We came in with a good plan, we stayed disciplined and we had our chances. We really just didn't take them… We can take that going forward, because we have a lot of road games coming up still."
The club's road trip continues on Sept. 12 at D.C. United. The Loons are in ninth place in the Western Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot. Any talk of a postseason berth makes every remaining match a must-win.
Defender Eric Miller left the match with an injury in the 33rd minute.
"I think it's a hamstring. We'll have to wait until (Sunday) to see how bad," Heath said.
Miller was replaced by Jerome Thiesson, who made his first appearance for the Loons since May. A starter at the beginning of the season, Thiesson had been sidelined by a series of injuries.