Did you all know that LIVESTRONG Sporting Park opened this past Thursday to host Sporting Kansas City’s first home game of the season?
Okay, I’m going to get this out of the way so we can talk some soccer: the stadium is awesome, the pitch looks great, and for me, it’s a dream to not have to watch the team toil away in a minor league baseball stadium or cavernous Arrowhead, both of which preclude having a proper sized playing surface. The grand opening featured a sellout crowd of 19,925, a streaker in a cow costume (who scored the only goal of the night), an appearance by Lance Armstrong, Chad Ochocinco, a stealth bomber flyover, and a slot on ESPN2’s Primetime Match of the Week.
Now, let’s talk about Sporting’s 0-0 draw with the Chicago Fire…
The first half saw Sporting dominate possession and create a few good scoring chances, though none that connected.
"We were all over them," said manager Peter Vermes of the first half. "Credit to them, they absorbed the pressure. We had a couple chances early and even in the last couple minutes of the first half with the Omar (Bravo) header. But we had a lot of good chances in the first half."
As has been the case so far this season, the offense simply lacks a certain touch of creativity when it gets into the final third. Sporting lacks a player who can deliver that final, penetrating ball in behind the defense, as well as that player who is consistently dangerous from 25 yards out.
That’s a combo makes it tough to score goals.
In the 15th minute, though, SKC had a decent chance when Kei Kamara beat his man down the right flank and delivered a nice, low cross in front of the net. A streaking Omar Bravo looked like he attempted to play the ball, but simply missed it. Graham Zusi was there on the other side to clean it up and fired an easy shot into the back of the net for what looked like the first ever goal in LSP.
The huge HD board flashed briefly with the GOAL!! celebration, before it was realized that the linesman had his flag up. Bravo was offside and the goal was disallowed.
I’m not quite sure how Bravo managed to miss that ball, either. He had a couple other curious plays throughout the night. For example, toward the end of the first half when he got into the penalty area behind his man on a long through ball/cross in the air. Instead of getting his head on the ball he attempted to chest it into the goal. The resulting effort was weak and went straight into the Chicago keeper’s hands.
Zusi played a solid game throughout the night, and almost scored that coveted first-ever goal again in the 28th minute, when he took nice lash at a ball from about 25 yards out that barely missed the top corner.
I like Zusi in the lineup and hope he continues to get playing time. He works hard, combines nicely with the attacking players, and is really one of the only players who has a dangerous long shot.
As the first half ended Sporting seemed in firm control of the game, but with little to show for it. I was hoping that Vermes would inset a few subs straight away to inject some different element into the match.
For example, Kei Kamara looked exhausted, as he has often times this season. Maybe it’s the travel back and forth to play with his Sierra Leon national team, but he has seemed a step slow for a while now. I don’t understand why he got the start, especially with the energetic CJ Sapong available, who entered in the second half and made an immediate impact winning a few headers and holding up the ball up front.
The second half saw more open play than the first, with both teams getting a few good chances. Perhaps this was due in part to fatigue, which looked like it had set in for SKC as well as some of the Chicago players.
In the 67th minute, Sporting keeper Jimmy Nielsen received a red card after committing a tactical hand ball that, honestly, he had no choice on. Chicago played a deft through ball that fell a few yards outside the penalty area, perfectly to the feet of an oncoming attacker who had broken through the center of Sporting’s defense. In order to deny the goal, Jimmy was forced to punch the ball away, and he received the mandatory red card.
"He had to make a decision after he committed himself to come out and he did what a goalkeeper does," said Vermes of Nielsen’s red card offense. "He put his hands up to try to make a save and unfortunately he was outside of the box. It was a good call by the official and the linesman was in a good position to make the decision."
Down to 10 men, Sporting played admirably the rest of the way to salvage another point. That’s three games in a row now – and another shutout – their second of the season. Though it was dicey for a moment there.
With Nielsen out for the red, backup Eric Kronberg came in and endured a scary moment when he mishandled a long, looping shot that deflected back to an oncoming Chicago player who blasted the ball off the woodwork.
That would have been an utterly depressing way to lose the game.
"I thought Orr (Barouch) took it well," said Fire manager Frank Klopas of the missed opportunity. "I don’t think he’s a guy that was thinking about it too much. He came and instinctively took the shot. The ball hit the post and went out. We are a team that has created goals and I think we just have got to start finishing or get lucky and have the ball hit the post and go in."
Sporting should have had their own chance as well, though.
Toward the end of regulation, Omar Bravo was taken down in the box, but the referee didn’t bat an eye. Bottles of beer started raining down from the Cauldron in protest of the referee’s inaction, and Bravo laid on the turf for several minutes. Replays show that Bravo clearly was fouled.
But that’s the way it goes sometimes, and at least Sporting hung on to get that one point for the draw. After the game, even Bravo was making no excuses.
"I don’t want to get into it that much because that is part of sport," said Bravo of the non-call. "This is soccer. It happens, and everyone makes mistakes. All I know is that my back hurts a lot."
SKC next plays Sunday night at Dallas. Let’s hope the defense can keep posting shutouts long enough for this team to regain its scoring touch.