Jacob Peterson was the final player standing on the Children’s Mercy Park field late Sunday, his baby daughter in his arms. After brief reunions with his former Sporting Kansas City teammates, Peterson stopped near the sideline and stared toward nothing in particular, as if he simply did not want to leave the place he called home for five years.
It was an emotional return in an Atlanta United FC uniform, he would say. But it was an equally productive one.
Peterson burned his former team with a game-tying goal moments before the final whistle, helping Atlanta United pull out a 1-1 draw with Sporting KC.
“Obviously when you score against your old club, there’s a little added motivation to it,” Peterson said. “But I absolutely loved my time here. I still think this is the flagship club in the league.”
The two sides separated in the winter, with Sporting KC reconfiguring its offense toward speed and possession. Peterson landed with Atlanta four days before Christmas. He introduced himself there with a goal in his first appearance, but a calf injury had sidelined him since April.
Peterson entered the match as a second-half substitute to an ovation from the crowd of 19,418, the venue’s 99th consecutive sellout. The game-tying goal fell to his left foot in the 91st minute following a cluster in the penalty area.
After sliding a shot past Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, Peterson skipped an opportunity to celebrate.
“I think just out of respect for the club and the fans, it wasn’t appropriate to celebrate,” he said.
On the other side, Sporting KC (9-4-10) extended a franchise-record home unbeaten streak to 21 matches, but it has earned only one point in four of its last five matches at Children’s Mercy Park. Although Sporting KC still leads the Western Conference by three points, it missed a chance to stretch that margin a couple of more points.
Benny Feilhaber, who entered the match at halftime after Cristian Lobato was awarded his first Sporting KC start, scored from the penalty dot in the 59th minute. Latif Blessing was fouled in the box to set up the try, and referee Chris Penso elected not to review the call in the first weekend of replay in MLS.
With the lead, Sporting KC controlled the majority of the possession and held the league’s best offense to just two shots on goal.
One too many.
“It’s freaking bitter,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We lost two points tonight, and we had the game in hand. We gave away a ridiculous goal at the end of the game, and we didn’t close the game out. It’s not a good feeling.”
Atlanta, an expansion club in the Eastern Conference, entered Children’s Mercy Park for the first time averaging 1.95 goals per game, tops in MLS.
The league’s best defense silenced that attack for the initial 90 minutes. Melia needed to make only one save, and that shot had arrived from distance.
In the 91st minute, however, Atlanta sent a last-gasp effort into the box. Matt Besler supplied solid contact on an attempt to clear the ball, but it deflected off another player, and Peterson hopped on the loose ball.
In 12 home matches, Sporting KC has allowed only eight goals.
“It’s just frustrating. We felt like we gave away two points today,” Sporting KC defender Seth Sinovic said. “For the majority of the game, we defended really well (and) didn’t really give up much.
“Kind of a cluster of guys, and the ball seems to pop out in the wrong spot. We have to do a better job on that as a whole.”