Early afternoon game on Sunday, perfect weather – a little overcast with a nice breeze – and a standing room only crowd of 20,000+.
To make things even more electric, Roger Espinoza was on hand as a special guest for the coin flip. He just finished up his first EPL season at Wigan, which made a late, improbable rush to win the FA Cup.
From the get-go this game was a cracker.
Sporting Kansas City created a great chance in the fourth minute after Houston gave the ball away in the back. But Graham Zusi sent his shot right at Houston Dynamo keeper Tally Hall.
A few minutes later Houston had an equally dangerous chance off a set piece just outside the box. The glancing header would have beat Jimmy Nielsen had it been on target.
After that, things got a little stagnant, with much of Sporting’s possessions coming in their own defensive third, and lots of long balls played up top in the air that amounted to nothing.
Zusi was visibly upset after several of his teammates played errant balls that went wide of their intended targets.
“We didn’t set the tone early on how we wanted to play,” explained Sporting striker Jacob Peterson. “We lost a lot of second balls and then we had some possession but it wasn’t dangerous possession in our own half, which of course Houston was fine with. They’re an experienced team- they’ve been around and they know how they want to play on the road.”
Then, it seemed, the refs screwed KC again.
The last time being with the atrocious offside call at DC. As Houston broke into the box Uri Rosell slid and cleanly dispossessed the attacker, but the whistle blew and the ref pointed to the spot.
The Cauldron blew up, with boos showering down upon Sporting Park.
Then, in a move I have never seen, the ref reversed his call. After consulting with the linesman, apparently he decided that the original call was wrong.
How lucky is that? Very, very lucky. Very. But hey, I’m glad they got it right, and everyone in the stadium seemed to agree, even the Dynamo players and coaches.
“I think in the end they got the call right,” said Houston boss Dom Kinnear. “I don’t agree with the way it was reversed, but I do think it was not a penalty.”
“To be honest, it ended the way it should have,” said Houston captain Brad Davis. “Unfortunately for us, I think they got the call right. I thought (Oriol Rosell) got all ball.”
Just a bit later though, in first half added time, KC’s luck would run out. Davis slipped in behind his marker off a little through ball from Will Bruin and flicked a tricky outside of the foot, near post shot that was created off a quick restart.
“We made a terrible decision out wide at midfield to play a ball into trouble, which lost us the ball ultimately costing us a foul,” fumed Vermes. “They played it quickly down the channel and score. We were out of position.”
The counter is really where Houston was most effective in the first half. They were able to get numbers up quickly several times and overwhelm KC’s spread-out back line.
In the second half changes had to be made. Chance Myers started for Mechack Jerome and Kei Kamara came in after about 5 minutes for Peterson Joseph, who looked about as ineffective as I can remember in the first half.
Right after Kei came in, Matt Besler hoisted a throw-in about as far as any human could. The ball caromed around the box and Claudio Bieler got a left boot to it, though his effort didn’t make it through the traffic and deflected for a corner.
But with Houston up 1-0 in Sporting’s house, the visitors became more and more willing to drop back and just camp in front of their goal, a tactic that has troubled KC for some time now due to their lack of a goal scorer that can operate with the ball on his foot in front of the net.
But then, Kei struck.
He gathered a ball from El Taca about 25 yards out, pushed it to his left, then scorched a low left-footer back across his body, beating a leaning Tally Hall to level the score at 1-1 with 25 minutes to play.
Next Kei almost put another in off a corner that Houston keeper Tally Hall just barely nudged over the bar.
“That’s the team, when it comes to the game I feel like it’s like Barcelona-Real Madrid,” said Kei. “For me it feels like that every game because I know how competitive they are. I know what it is what they want to do when they come here, or we go to their place.”
Though it was great to come back from the 1-0 deficit and tie the match, most in the SKC camp felt they should’ve earned the full three points, especially on their home field.
“A draw is better than a loss,” said Peterson. “It’s not good enough. I think everyone here wants to win every game- especially at home.”