Sporting Kansas City settled for a 1-1 draw Sunday with Eastern Conference bottom-feeder D.C. United at RFK Stadium, but the result might have been dramatically different were it not for an offside call by assistant referee Matthew Nelson.
Defender Ike Opara appeared to stake Sporting KC, 6-4-3, to a lead in the 30th minute, but the goal was disallowed.
“There’s no chance Ike was offside,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “The linesman doesn’t understand the rule. Obviously, he made a big mistake.”
Defender Matt Besler, who returned to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained right MCL, tracked down a ball at the end line after an interchange with Seth Sinovic, setting the controversial play in motion.
Besler cut the ball back to forward Jacob Peterson, a pass reminiscent of Soony Saad’s assist on Claudio Bieler’s 89th-minute goal in Sporting KC’s 1-0 win April 5 against D.C. at Sporting Park.
Peterson then rolled the ball across the box where Opara blasted a right-footed one-timer into an empty net only to throw his hands over his hand in disbelief upon seeing Nelson’s raised flag.
Replays showed that forward Claudio Bieler might have been offside at the opposite post, though even that was debatable.
Bieler wasn’t involved in the play, while Opara was more than a yard behind the United’s last defender, Dejan Jakovic, in the middle of the goal box.
“It changes everything, because if we have the lead there then obviously they’re going to throw more numbers forward and we’re going to be able to counter,” Vermes said. “The game would have been totally different. There were still 15 minutes left in the half as well, so anything could happen at that point.”
Instead, the game went to halftime scoreless.
Sporting KC drew first blood in the 60th minute off a Graham Zusi corner kick.
Opara, who started in place of suspended centerback Aurelien Collin (yellow card accumulation), nicked Zusi’s service, which then clanged off D.C. defender Andrew White’s noggin and into goal.
White was screened from seeing the ball by Opara and was helpless to prevent the own goal, but Sporting KC’s lead was short-lived.
D.C., 1-8-2, equalized in the 65th minute when Chris Pontius, who subbed on at halftime, whipped a cross from the sideline toward the far right post, where Kyle Porter got his foot around Sinovic and beat Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen with a sliding shot.
“We gave up one chance and that was it,” Vermes said. “We didn’t close the service down outside well enough, and it was a great ball in by Pontius. (Porter) finished it very well, but we weren’t ready for that play.”
From there, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid made sure the game remained level.
He somehow kept the ball out of the goal during a 77th-minute scrum at the right post after Zusi delivered another picturesque free kick.
The chance was missed when neither Lawrence Olum, who came on late in the first half for injured midfielder Peterson Joseph, nor second-half sub Kei Kamara managed to get a clean strike with Hamid on the ground after an initial save.
Four minutes later, Bieler took a rip from the top off the box off a deflection, but Hamid tipped the ball inches wide of the post with a diving save.
Zusi charged into the box during the 84th minute and laid a pass off for Kamara, whose drive was deflected out for a corner kick.
Hamid also went to the ground to stop a left-footed try by Kamara in the 90th minute.
“I thought our performance was good and we created quite a few chances,” Vermes said. “I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get one late. Hamid made a fantastic save on Claudio’s ball into the corner — a tremendous, big-time save — but we had some chances and should have put one away early. Some of it we have to put on ourselves as well.”