A mere 72 hours after Sporting Kansas City beat the Red Bulls in NYC, the boys in
blue were on the pitch again – this time in sunny southern California.
Entering the match, KC hadn’t conceded a goal in an astonishing 545 minutes of game play, a streak that extended back to early March. But it seems that tired legs and travel did finally catch up to Peter Vermes‘ Eastern Conference-leading squad.
That said, Vermes was more interested in calling out the refs for missing what he thought was an obvious handball call that led to LA’s first goal:
“I actually thought up until the goal we were actually pretty good. Look, it’s a handball. It doesn’t get called and it breaks us a little bit right at that point. Now here we are, we already have the fatigue aspect to deal with and now we’re trying to chase the game after a goal gets scored based on an easy call by the referee and it doesn’t happen.”
Handball or not, the fact of the matter is KC’s defense got split apart multiple times, leaving keeper Jimmy Nielsen hung out to dry with no chance on either of LA’s goals.
On the first goal, Landon Donovan played a small ball across the 6 yard box to a streaking teammate who easily pushed the ball into the back of the net. There seemed to be some confusion among KC’s defense afterwards, as they actually had decent numbers back, but failed to pick up LA’s runs coming through the box.
“It’s disappointing from my point of view with our performance today,” Nielsen said afterwards. “Huge game, big game, in my opinion two of the better teams in the league and we didn’t perform at all.”
“After the first 15 minutes of good pressure and balance, we got away from that for one reason or another,” explained Graham Zusi, who almost netted a nice free kick in the first half that caromed off the crossbar. “We kind of fell apart defensively and allowed them to get a couple goals.”
The second LA goal was equally frustrating. As KC built forward, midfielder Paulo Nagamura was forced to cover in the back. A long through ball was played out of LA’s defense to veteran Robbie Keane, who checked to the ball but let it run through. Nagamura bit hard on Keane’s initial step and then it was off to the races. Keane dribbled into the box drawing Nielsen, and played a simple pass to Donovan – who had beaten the rest of Sporting’s players back – and passed the ball into the empty goal.
Still, Vermes insisted that the no-call was truly the tipping point in this game.
“It’s a shame in a game like this because I think they’re two good teams, for a goal to be scored that way,” seethed Vermes. “You have center ref, you got linesman and you got fourth official and the fourth official is right there I mean he had a great view of it and for that not to happen between the three of them is a failure in the system. Those guys made a mistake for sure. I spoke to Ricardo but at that point, what are you going to do? I wish we had instant replay – that’d be great.”
But you don’t have replay, and the alleged handball was at midfield, not anywhere near the KC goal. And handball or not, LA exposed some gaps in Sporting’s system. KC pushes its wingbacks forward so high at times that the centerback is often left vulnerable – and that’s exactly what happened in this loss.