The latest version of a rivalry that has intensified over the past five seasons reached Sporting Park late in the opening half on Saturday, escalating to a scrum of nearly 20 soccer players exchanging words and a few shoves.
It started rather unsurprisingly, with Houston keeper Tyler Deric sending his elbow into the chest of Sporting Kansas City striker Dom Dwyer, who simply smiled as he plopped to the ground.
But for all of the predictable drama between two rivals, it was a late-game call — or lack thereof — that fashioned a stirring conclusion.
Sporting KC and Houston played to a 1-1 draw Saturday, but only after Houston midfielder Luis Garrido appeared to get away with a handball in the penalty box in the 94th minute.
"I was 60 yards away and I saw it clean. It was a handball. The referee was 10 yards away," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. "I have no understanding of how you can't make the call."
In his post-game press conference, Vermes advocated for MLS to consider adopting instant replay.
Here’s what it would have shown Saturday: A throw-in from Sporting KC captain Matt Besler bounced in the penalty area before hitting Garrido in the right arm. Referee Jorge Gonzalez elected not to reward Sporting KC a potential game-deciding penalty kick.
Besler, who asked for an explanation of the no-call while on the field, said that Gonzalez “told me he judged it to hit his hip.”
In response to a reporter’s pool questions after the match, Gonzalez offered a different explanation, replying in writing, “It was judged not to be deliberate.”
That negated a potential bounce-back goal from Sporting KC, which received an early score from Dom Dwyer but allowed Ricardo Clark to equalize in the 78th minute for Houston.
Eleven days after Sporting KC eliminated Houston from the U.S. Open Cup tournament, the follow-up featured some familiarities — most notably, an ejection.
Houston midfielder Nathan Sturgis was shown a red card in the 86th minute after a challenge on Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza, who left the match after the play. A Houston player has been ejected in all three of the teams’ meetings this season.
Sporting KC played the final 9 minutes, including 5 minutes of stoppage time, with a man advantage, though it couldn’t convert it into a game-winner.
It almost did. Twice.
Krisztian Nemeth found the back of the net in stoppage time, but the goal was correctly waved off for an offsides call. A minute later, Garrido escaped without a penalty call.
Asked if he had a clear view of the potential handball, Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber said, “Almost as good as the ref had.”
The conclusion was notable. So, too, were the opening minutes.
In the sixth minute, Sporting KC opened with a recognizable scoring connection.
Feilhaber. To Dwyer.
Feilhaber curled a free kick toward a mass of his waiting teammates in the penalty area, and Dwyer used his head to turn the ball into the back of the net. Dwyer has scored in six straight matches against Houston across all competitions. Feilhaber recorded his 11th assist in MLS action, the second most in the league.
That lead stood until the 78th minute, when Clark got on the end of a set piece from Brad Davis, who lined up several free kicks in the second half from dangerous spots.
“It’s a little disappointing because I think we could’ve had those three points,” Feilhaber said. “It’s tough to give up a goal late and then not get one late there with the penalty. It’s tough to drop two points that way, but I think we could’ve done better, too.”
Sporting Kansas City 1
HOUSTON: Tyler Deric, DaMarcus Beasley, David Horst, Raul Rodriguez, Sheanon Williams, Alex (Leonel Miranda, 68th), Brad Davis, Nathan Sturgis, Ricardo Clark (Luis Garrido, 80th), Will Bruin (Erick Torres, 62nd), Giles Barnes.
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Chance Myers (Saad Abdul-Salaam, 79th), Amadou Dia, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza (Paulo Nagamura, 90th), Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi (Jacob Peterson, 90th+), Dom Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth.
Houston: 2, Clark 5 (Davis), 78th.
Kansas City: 1, Dwyer 7 (Feilhaber), 6th minute.
Shots on goal
Houston: Deric (off the ball foul), 45th; Torres (foul), 80th.
Kansas City: Besler (foul), 20th; Dwyer (off the ball foul), 45th; Ellis (time wasting), 65th; Myers (foul), 76th.
Houston: Sturgis (serious foul), 86th.
Kansas City: None.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez.
Assistant referee: Corey Parker.
Assistant referee: Ian Anderson.
4th official: Younes Marrakchi.
Announced attendance: 19,882.