The visiting New York Red Bulls came to town a mere two points behind Eastern Conference leading KC. They were without their biggest name star, Thierry Henry, whose wife had a baby a few days ago, but they still brought plenty of firepower in the form of Sebastian LeToux, Kenny Cooper, Dax McCarty and new acquisition, Australian Tim Cahill.
KC came out looking as confident as I’ve seen them in quite some time, not over-pressing, but still aggressively challenging each and every New York passing attempt. New York struggled against the pressure mightily just to get the ball out of its own defensive third.
“We were swarming them, and they couldn’t get it out of their half of the field,” said KC manager Peter Vermes after the game. “They couldn’t come up with a solution for building out. They just kept sending it to their last guy who would then whack it up the field. I think that this caused a lot of problems for them.”
Then in the 4th minute KC’s aggressive attitude paid off.
Graham Zusi spotted a streaking Teal Bunbury and chipped a ball into his path that came to rest just outside the penalty area. Teal- who seems to be able to outpace almost anyone in the league lately- rushed hard as New York keeper Bill Gaudette mistakenly came outside the box to try and make a play on the ball. If he knew Teal’s game no way he comes out so quickly.
Teal got a bit of a touch, enough to pop the ball over to teammate Kei Kamara who rose above a couple defenders and sent a looping header bouncing into the empty net as the Red Bull keeper watched helplessly.
And even with the 1-0 lead KC didn’t seem to be backing off any.
They continued pressuring and possessing, and the first 25 minutes or so might have been the best I’ve seen from them in months. Even Paulo Nagamura seemed to have a bit more confidence on the ball, and impacted the game more than he has in the past.
Unfortunately, right when I thought things were clicking, KC had some miscommunication inside the 6 yard box on a New York free kick. It was a ball that certainly should’ve either been cleared by a defender or punched away by the White Puma.
Instead, it deflected off Kei’s head and slipped in for an own goal.
At half, the Red Bulls had not even managed a shot on goal, but the game was set up for them as the perfect blueprint for beating this Sporting side.
Around the 65th minute or so, for the first time New York began stringing together some possessions and creating half chances, mostly on counters. KC started dragging, stopped playing the smart, easy passes and grew more and more frustrated.
“Sometimes I say too much to the referee and I get too sensitive, but the calls the referee makes are not always right,” explained KC defender Aurelien Collin, who will miss the next game due to yellow card accumulation. “I have been here one-and-a-half years, and it has been the same problem. I just have to keep my mouth closed.”
Most demonstrative was Kei, who does this from time to time. He can let the mental aspects completely take him out of games, and it’s even noticeable from the stands and his teammates obviously see it too. He needs to be tougher because whether he likes it or not, on the pitch he is KC’s leader, even if he solely leads by example.
As if on cue, Kei came back to life around the 75th minute. He seemed to be everywhere, winning headers, cranking a near-miss free kick, feeding his fellow strikers little balls into the middle.
Then he was right back to pouting like a little kid, walking around, yelling at his teammates when they failed to play him the exact ball he wanted.
That’s when the Red Bulls nearly eked out a trademark, “Here’s how to beat KC” win.
In the 94th minute, a streaking LeToux got in behind on a counter attack. Chance tracked him down, but McCarty trailed and received a perfect ball to his feet unmarked, just yards from a frozen Jimmy Nielsen. McCarty essentially shat himself as he tried to fake, got the ball poked away, then attempted one of the most ridiculous fish flops I’ve ever seen.
The ref just looked at him for a good 10 seconds, letting the fiery midfielder know how pathetic his attempt at drawing a PK was.
It should have been a yellow for simulation.
But again, this is how teams beat Sporting. They hang around, get a couple bits of luck or a counter, get out shot (New York finished with 0 shots on goal) and out-possessed horribly, but still have a chance at three points due to KC’s inept offense.
And somehow, this doesn’t seem to faze Vermes.
“I feel that the dominating performance that we had in regards to being all over them – never really letting them have any of the run of the play – it says a lot about our game,” he said.