KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The Union came back from a halftime deficit, but a goal in the 83rd minute from C.J. Sapong allowed Sporting Kansas City to take a 2-1 win in its regular season finale, and celebrate as champions of MLS’ Eastern Conference.
Union manager John Hackworth went with customary second half substitute, Antoine Hoppenot a little earlier than usual, as the rookie forward entered at halftime. It paid dividends seven minutes later as Hoppenot would score off a penalty kick miss by midfielder Michael Farfan in the 53rd minute. Farfan took the kick after fellow mid Danny Cruz was taken down inside the 18-yard-box. Hoppenot pounced on a rebound given up by Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, which for the time being nullified a blistering goal by K.C. midfielder Jacob Peterson in the 40th minute.
“It’s tough because I thought we played a very good game particularly in the second half,” Hackworth said. “But I thought we made some horrible mistakes that came back to haunt us in the end. Mistakes you just can’t have when you are trying to earn a point on the road.”
The cliché is to say “a tale of two halves,” but it truly was in this affair as the Union took it too Sporting in the second half after being dominated in the first. While the final stat sheet showed K.C. edged the Union in attempts on goal, 14-10, it was the Union at one point that held a 10-9 edge in shots and had four on goal; two that hit the lower left post after a glancing header from forward Jack McInerney in the 58th minute nicked the post. Seconds later, Keon Daniel hit the same post in the 59th.
“We had numerous opportunities to actually go up in the game and it’s unfortunate to get a goal there,” continued Hackworth. “Jack McInerney has a header that hits the post inches from going in…so it’s disappointing, but I thought we played well, so I do take positives from this match.”
Kansas City (18-7-9, 63 points) will open the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 1 seed against a team to be determined on Nov. 7 at LIVESTRONG.
On the flip, the loss was the second in a row in less than a week for the Union, who suffered a 1-0 road loss to Houston on Saturday. In addition, the Union (10-17-6, 36 points) fell to 0-2-1 overall at Sporting K.C. and are 2-2-3 all-time against Kansas City.
“You have to give credit,” said Hackworth. “Kansas City came in with a gameplan that was high tempo and lots of pressure and we found it hard at times to keep up.”
Jimmy McLaughlin, one of three homegrown players made his MLS debut when he entered as a second half substitute for Danny Cruz in the 73rd minute.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget, I just wish it came with a win,” McLaughlin said. “I am disappointed we weren’t able to come away with one. But to play in front of an atmosphere like this was incredible. The speed was one thing I noticed. It’s a lot quicker and faster. It forces you to react the right way a lot quicker.”
The Union look to end the season on a high Saturday in a return to PPL Park. to take on rival Red Bull New York. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. and will air on NBC.