Still battling for the Supporter’s Shield, Sporting KC took to the road Wednesday night for a match up with the Houston Dynamo, a team that has been KC’s kryptonite the last few seasons.
And as has been the case lately, the game was an ugly one, with little fluidity. In the end, though, KC wasn’t too unhappy taking the 0-0 draw and earning a point on the road, even though a win would have clinched a playoff spot.
KC’s lineup was altered due to Matt Besler and Graham Zusi being called up for national team duty at Sporting Park this Friday against Jamaica, so Lawrence Olum and Ike Opara got the starts instead. Which did not sit well with White Puma Jimmy Nielsen, who blamed MLS for his squad’s second-tier lineup.
“I think it’s completely ridiculous that there is a game today when the US men’s national team are playing,” stated Nielsen. ”The team should be able to play their best players and the fans should be able to see the best players. It feels like an amateur league when they set up stuff like that. It’s very, very unprofessional and I’m really disappointed.”
Most leagues around the world take the week off during international play.
“They’ve got to get a better schedule,” Nielson continued. ”We are losing two of our best players for a huge game. We were fighting the whole season to get into the playoffs and with three games left we are missing our two best players because of a national team game. I think it’s ridiculous there’s a game today. I’m very upset about it, it’s very disappointing.”
Despite the Puma’s disappointment, he had one of his better games, denying Houston striker Will Bruin twice early on with a nice kick save, and then a sprawling save, both of which were from close range.
A few minutes later Corey Ashe lashed a swooping 35 yarder that required a touch over the bar from Nielsen.
“Nielsen played out of his mind,” commented Bruin afterwards. ”He got them a point in my mind and I give credit to him for making big saves and when he needed to, he kept them in the game.”
Despite Houston’s early onslaught, KC should have taken the lead midway through the first half when the ball found Dom Dwyer with some space in front of the opposition’s goal. He pivoted and struck the bouncing ball but couldn’t get over it enough and sent it into the stands.
Right before halftime, Houston almost took the lead off a Brad Davis free kick. But Aurelien Collin retreated to the goal line at the last second and headed the curling attempt clear.
The second half saw both teams struggle to create many real chances, and as the game wore on it seemed like a draw was inevitable. KC wasn’t bunkering per se, but they weren’t risking much either, and the game devolved into a midfield battle.
“The game was congested because of the environment,” said KC boss Peter Vermes. ”It was a battle. It’s never easy at the end of a season like this when teams are trying to get points and chasing it. Credit to both teams, I think both of us tried to pull something out.”
With just three games remaining, KC sits at 52 points, one back of New York, and even with Salt Lake who sit atop the Western Conference. Despite their ups and downs this season, Sporting Kansas City is right in the thick of the race for the Supporter’s Shield.