It was a matchup between Eastern Conference leader Sporting Kansas City and the Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake, in Salt Lake City.
Saturday night’s game was one of the biggest measuring sticks of the season so far, and both teams delivered gutty, entertaining performances worthy of the top handful of squads in MLS.
Both sides were missing players to national team duty, but Real was depleted a bit more than Sporting without midfielder and captain Kyle Beckerman, along with starting keeper Nick Rimando. KC was missing center defender Matt Besler, but it was his replacement that would score the shocking winner deep, deep into added time.
The Salt Lake bench was screaming for the ref’s final whistle as the clock ticked into the 97th minute, just as a perfect Graham Zusi corner found the head of tall and athletic Ike Opara. The defender rose up and caught the keeper leaning the other way to give Sporting the 2-1 lead. That after going down 1-0 early in the second half.
The KC bench went nuts. The stadium silent. And Salt Lake’s bench was livid.
Real had taken the lead early in the 2nd half off a bad mistake by Jimmy Nielsen – he came out on a free kick that was swung into the box and just barely got a touch on the ball, misjudging it badly. The ball squirted over his head and Robbie Findley easily headed the deflection into the empty net.
But Sporting fought back and equalized with yet another goal from the red hot Soony Saad, who hitch-kicked a ball that had been knocked around the box off several different players. It fell to him luckily, and he buried the close range shot.
A few minutes later the game took a dramatic turn when Salt Lake’s Chris Wingert picked up a second yellow and was sent off. He picked up the first yellow in the first minute of the game when he laid a dirty hit on Kei Kamara, blindsiding him in the head and neck area. The second came via a cynical tackle on Saad.
This is the part where Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis gets pissed. Enjoy.
“I just watched the replay and I wanted to come in with facts not opinions of what I saw or what I think I saw – I needed to watch it again,” Kreis began, only beginning to get warmed up. “It’s a poor decision, an extremely poor decision against us. He (Wingert) barely touches the player, and he (Soony Saad) falls down. Now we’re picking up a second yellow card when there were multiple players on their team and weren’t picking up yellow cards for the same exact actions – pulling shirts, stopping counter attacks in the first half.”
“The level of consistency was the lowest I’ve seen from a referee in MLS. And again, I don’t want to belabor the point about the referee being poor,” Kreis continued. “He is going to be poor. It’s his 14th match of his entire career. The referee in a sold out stadium, in a first place versus second place matchup – it’s the wrong game for him to make his 14th MLS game.”
I love how Kreis takes for granted that the ref is going to be terrible.
Ahhh, MLS. So the guy is inexperienced, I suppose. But Salt Lake didn’t do themselves any favors by being so reckless right from the opening whistle. What was the ref supposed to do? It gets better:
“We have to move on quickly and hopefully in the majority of the games, the referee will get the decisions right,” Kreis adds. “And hopefully referees will know to not give seven minutes of extra time when he puts out [five]. These are difficult things to keep track of, I guess.”
Well, Kreis has a point there, that was an awful lot of added time.
Let’s put a bow on this meltdown:
“This one the referee owns. In my opinion, the referees own this game.”
In a much lighter mood, KC boss Peter Vermes simply said, “I thought that we kept our cool really well, and I thought that paid off in the end, because obviously they got their red card and we didn’t. That was a good thing.”