Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen stood outside the visitors locker room at Sporting Park and promptly rattled off a list of the reasons his club is in position for its first playoff appearance in franchise history. He raced through the areas of improvement in only a matter of seconds.
But that index eventually led him to a realization that his club learned the hard way Saturday.
There’s still work to be done.
Sporting Kansas City put a stamp on its Eastern Conference lead by routing Toronto FC 4-1 in front of 20,730 fans at Sporting Park.
Toronto FC fell to 0-2-1 this season against the Eastern Conference leaders.
“We needed to harden as a team, but you have to do that through experience, through playing and through the plays, year after year of grinding it out,” Nelsen said. “I think we still got a wee bit to go, but the positives on our day, we can beat anybody in this league, and I think everybody knows that.”
Toronto FC, 9-8-5, performed better than the scoreline indicated. The visitors recorded only one less shot than Sporting KC and held 47 percent of the possession - a hard number to reach at Sporting Park, where only one visiting team has claimed victory this season.
But Sporting KC striker Dom Dwyer broke a five-game scoreless slump when he converted a pair of first-half penalty kicks. He has 16 goals this season.
Toronto FC forward Gilberto Oliveira Souza executed a nifty flick to beat goalkeeper Jon Kempin in extra time of the first half to cut the deficit to 2-1, but Soony Saad and C.J. Sapong finished off corner-kick plays for the 4-1 final.
“I don’t think we’ll be giving away goals on corner kicks like that. We don’t normally,” Nelsen said. “And then it’s just two penalties. If you take all that away, they don’t create much against us and don’t break us down very often.
“We had very many opportunities to score a lot of goals in open play. We’re dangerous. We look good now. We’ll be a different animal when we have a few guys (back).”
The club played without its captain, defender Steven Caldwell, as well as Jermain Defoe, Mark Bloom and Warren Creavalle. Nelsen said all four players could return when Toronto FC returns home Aug. 23 to host the Chicago Fire.
Their absences loomed large - particularly on the back line.
“We looked young at the back today - some indecision,” Nelsen said. “But we learned from it. All those guys learned from it. They’ll grow from it. The experience will be good for them. The exciting thing about it is if we’re lucky enough to come back and play these guys again, I’m very confident in our team.”
Gilberto provided reason for optimism in the first half when he finished off a crossing pass from Dominic Oduro, but he missed his chance to knot the score later in the game.
Gilberto found himself in a one-on-one with Kempin - who was making the first start of his Major League Soccer career - only six minutes after halftime, but Kempin deflected the shot wide.
Toronto defender Jackson Goncalves - responsible for the first penalty kick when he tripped midfielder Benny Feilhaber - had an opportunity to atone for his mistake in the second half when he found himself one-on-one with Kempin. But he took too long to make his move, and Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin hustled back to clear the ball from danger.
That was the end of chances for Toronto FC, which still managed to secure six points over its four-game road swing.
“I think you’d take six points from four away games. I think if someone offered me that, I’d probably take it,” Nelsen said.