On Tuesday night, Sporting Kansas City had plans to honor the club’s late co-owner Neal Patterson, who died Sunday after a battle with cancer, before and during the game against FC Dallas. But Sporting KC’s play on the field honored Patterson more than anyone could have expected.
“One thing is that, his (Neal’s) big quality is that he was an incredibly hard worker,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “Well, the guys had to work very hard tonight for however many minutes being a man down.
“And they gave nothing away. They found a way to just block everything. It was unreal.”
In the 15th minute of the match, defender Seth Sinovic received a red card, forcing Sporting KC to play a man down for around 105 minutes. As the game wore on, Sporting KC eventually defeated FC Dallas 3-0 in extra time, advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
“But I honestly will tell you this: When Seth got thrown out, for some reason I believed that we were going to win the game,” Vermes said. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it was Neal, I don’t know. I just felt it tonight, I really did.”
Vermes, who said he wound up having a pretty special relationship with Patterson, said he had exchanged text messages with Patterson after recent matches where Patterson was pleased with the amount of goals being scored — specifically the 4-0 victory against Minnesota United FC on June 14.
“And then the other thing is that he really loved goals. He would always talk to me and say ‘Ah, we really need to score goals here,’ ” Vermes said. “All the time. So the fact that we stick in three tonight being a man down, I don’t know of a different way we could’ve paid tribute to him.
“This game was for Neal.”
Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, who made 11 saves while standing tall on several occasions while the team was down a man, said Patterson gave them an extra push tonight.
“For us to do this on this night with the loss of someone so important to the club, it’s special. We needed a little extra push,” Melia said.
As the players took the field, they did so with orange patches on their jerseys and arm bands with “Neal” on them.
Sporting KC president Jake Reid said Patterson’s shares of the team will go to his family.
“It’s always been about the families, so I don’t think that changes,” Reid said. “I think the family structure is what they (the owners) set it up as, and that’ll continue.”
Reid, who admitted Tuesday’s game had a different feel to it, said the club will continue to honor Patterson in several ways throughout the remainder of the season.
Prior to the national anthem, a moment of silence was held for Patterson, which concluded with the Sporting faithful breaking into “Neal Patterson” chants.
In the northwest corner of Children’s Mercy Park, the club left a seat open in its Victory Suite, usually occupied by an honoree of the Victory Project, Sporting Kansas City’s charitable arm for kids battling cancer.
The seat was draped with flowers. Sporting Club chief operating officer Alan Dietrich said the Victory Project came up in his final conversation with Patterson a few weeks ago.
“He was talking at the time about his role and his wife’s role in wanting to help that foundation,” Dietrich said.
In addition to the patches on the jersey, which were colored orange because Patterson attended Oklahoma State University, Sporting KC crests with the word “Neal” were cut into the grass on both sides of the pitch.
“For him (Neal), it was always a first-name basis,” Reid said. “He always wanted to go by Neal, first name only.”
After gaining permission from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, the club flew the State of Kansas and U.S. flags at half staff. Reid said the team will further honor Patterson’s life when Sporting KC plays host to the Chicago Fire on July 29.