Deploying something of a makeshift lineup, Sporting Kansas City was far from crisp Saturday afternoon against the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
But Sporting KC managed to salvage a 0-0 draw in chilly, rainy conditions during a foul-filled battle with the expansion Impact, who entered play seventh in the Eastern Conference and needed a win to maintain realistic postseason hopes.
“It was a great result for us,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said by phone from Montreal. “This was a team that had to win to remain alive for the playoffs, so they were playing for everything. For us, we were coming off a big game Wednesday, so to get another point was huge.”
Veteran Michael Harrington started at right back for Chance Myers, who came on in an attacking role in the 83rd minute, while Lawrence Olum subbed in at centerback for Aurelien Collin.
Despite a back line with only half of the regular starters, Sporting KC, 16-7-7, managed to secure its 13th shutout of the season.
Making his first MLS start, midfielder Oriol Rosell stepped in for a suspended Roger Espinoza, while forward Jacob Peterson — who received a red card from the sideline in the 89th minute — started up top, allowing midfielder Graham Zusi to slide back into his usual role after starting several games on the wing.
“We changed the team around, but we were still very organized and did a good job pressuring them,” Vermes said. “For us, the key was to try to take them out of their rhythm and not give them too much in the attack.”
The game started in promising fashion for Sporting KC, which got Montreal, 12-15-4, on its heels initially.
Zusi missed the left post by inches in the 12th minute as his bending shot, which had Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins beat, curled wide.
Two minutes later, Zusi and forward Kei Kamara each had moments of brilliance during an incredible buildup sequence that eventually ended with Kamara rifling a point-blank try, off a cross from Peterson, into Perkins’ gut.
Not that it would have mattered as Kamara was judged offsides.
Montreal’s Justin Mapp authored the Impact’s first real threat in the 25th minute when he got free just outside the box and was given ample time and space to dribble toward the middle before unleashing a shot that missed the near post by a foot.
Five minutes later, midfielder Felipe Martins took a shot from 25 yards out, but Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who leads MLS with 13 shutouts and boasts a 0.83 goals-against average, smothered the shot then bear-crawled to the rebound.
Sporting KC and the Impact combined for just six shots in the first 64 minutes. Things opened up during the final 15 minutes, but there were still only five shots on goal for the game, including Peterson’s long, skipping shot that Perkins pushed wide for a corner kick in the 75th minute.
“Late in the game, we didn’t want to make a mistake with the conditions, so it wasn’t the time to open things up,” Vermes said. “We played for the point and tried to get something on the counterattack, which almost happened.”
The most promising counterattack came in the 77th minute when Zusi raced down the middle of the field. Former Sporting KC midfielder and current Impact captain Davy Arnaud tugged on Zusi’s shirt, but it wasn’t enough to knock him off the ball.
But as Zusi chugged forward with a three-on-two chance opening up, referee Jorge Gonzalez blew his whistle, ignoring the obvious Sporting KC advantage.
Overall, Sporting KC was whistled for 22 fouls compared to nine for Montreal.
“If they would have added six more of the fouls on me that weren’t called, we’ll call it even,” Kamara said. “It wasn’t exactly balanced, but that happens on the road. When you’re at home and the crowd is for you, like it was for Montreal today, a lot of things go your way. But we still took a point away from the game.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.