Sporting Kansas City looked prime to return to the win column into the 60th minute Saturday against the rival Chicago Fire in Bridgeview, Ill., but everything changed during 90 critical seconds.
For the second straight game, Aurelien Collin was whistled for a penalty in the box, and no sooner had play resumed after Sebastian Grazzini’s game-tying penalty kick when Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza was shown a red card.
Unable to douse the Fire the remaining 30 minutes playing a man down, Sporting KC’s losing skid reached three games with a 2-1 defeat.
“The score line is not indicative of how we played,” manager Peter Vermes said by phone.
Once Sporting KC, 7-3-0, settled in during the first half, Vermes’ crew looked to be in control, and a 31st-minute goal confirmed that.
Making a run into the Fire penalty box from the right side, Espinoza found forward Bobby Convey with a left-footed centering pass. Convey nicked the ball past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson for a 1-0 lead and his first goal with Sporting KC.
Moments before halftime, Sporting KC, which didn’t concede a first-half shot on goal, nearly grabbed a two-goal lead when forward C.J. Sapong slotted a pass back to Espinoza, whose 20-yard rocket was tipped into the crossbar by a diving Johnson.
“The half was very good and the first 15 minutes of the second half were very good as well,” Vermes said. “We had one breakdown with our shape and everything changed after that.”
The teams traded chances early in the second half.
Speedy Dominic Oduro couldn’t quite get to a nifty cross in the 51st minute that Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen punched to safety.
Two minutes later, Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi whipped a low, hard corner kick across the face of the Fire goal, but neither Julio Cesar nor Sapong could get the necessary touch on the ball.
Things got hairy for Sporting KC in the 60th minute when Collin appeared to graze the ball before clipping Oduro with a sliding challenge.
Nonetheless, referee Jose Carlos Rivero awarded the Fire a penalty kick, which Grazzini buried high in the right side despite the fact that Nielsen guessed correctly.
During the 62nd minute, it got worse for Sporting KC as a leaping Espinoza drilled Grazzini in the chin with a high, stray elbow in front of Rivero, who was making his MLS debut.
Rivero showed Espinoza a straight red card, forcing Sporting KC to play the remainder of the game with only 10 men.
“It’s not a red card,” Vermes said. “There’s nothing to speak of other than that. It was not a good call and it changed the game completely.”
Chicago, 4-2-3, steadily ramped up the pressure sensing the chance for three points.
When forward Kei Kamara failed to promptly clear a ball in Sporting KC’s box, Patrick Nyarko pilfered it and in doing so tipped the ball toward the center of Nielsen’s goal where a sliding Oduro put the Fire in front.
“He made a mistake,” Vermes said. “He was looking to pop it up and clear it with a volley, but in that situation you just need to get the ball out of danger.”