The whistle sounded and triggered a loud applause echoing around Sporting Park on Sunday afternoon. It also sent a handful of Sporting Kansas City reserve players to the ground.
Sweat dripping from their jerseys and smiles wide, never before this season has a 1-1 draw felt as good.
The scene was telling, even for Seattle Sounders FC manager Sigi Schmid, whose side witnessed a backup-heavy Sporting KC team eek out a late goal.
“When a team plays a lot of reserve players, those guys are going to put forth their best effort because they want to play,” Schmid said after the match. “You saw a lot of them collapsed on the field at the end of the game because they left everything they had on the field. So I never really put too much stock into that.”
True are those words. It wasn’t a superb, technical performance from Sporting KC’s reserves, but the effort and confidence was enough to secure a single goal and point ahead of a major matchup on Wednesday in Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup Final.
Here are three thoughts on Sunday’s draw:
1. Sporting KC lacked creativity, and that’s OK
Featuring Jordi Quintilla, Mikey Lopez and (striker) Jacob Peterson, this was the reserve lineup to end all reserve lineups for Sporting KC. Yet, for most of the match, this group held their own against a talented attacking Seattle side.
However, on paper, Sporting KC appeared to be the significantly stronger side with seven shots on target to Seattle’s two. But stats can be deceiving — especially in soccer — and that was the case on Sunday. Sporting KC’s attack moved the ball up the field — albeit sluggishly at times — but sputtered on the edge of the 18-yard-box. With no real creative threat to pull the Sounders out, Sporting KC would send in crosses targeting one player being defended by three or four green jerseys.
Despite five shots on goal in the first half, Sporting KC threatened to score just twice: Once on a Quintilla bender outside the box and a second a few minutes later on Bernardo Anor’s snap header right at Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Chances were limited in the second half as well until super-sub Dom Dwyer entered the game and demanded attention inside the box at the peak of the attack. At that point, creativity budded, and Sporting KC proved to deserve a point at the minimum.
“When Dom came on, obviously he had a different objective and that was more spearheaded toward goal, which I think pushed their line back and opened them up a little bit more,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “They (Seattle) were a little bit more conservative, if you will, which (inevitably) created more opportunities.”
2. Seattle left the door open
As cliché as it sounds, Seattle showcased what happens when you let a team you’re expected to beat linger around too long.
Clint Dempsey missed two, point-blank chances in front of goal. Jon Kempin, who filled admirably for Tim Melia, brilliantly saved the first, and the second — 85 minutes in — was poked wide.
On both occasions, “Deuce” should’ve done more.
“As soon as we saw him miss,” Sporting KC defender Amadou Dia said, “we told each other, ‘Okay, let’s go now. Let’s pick it up and start going.’”
That they did.
But it wasn’t just Seattle’s star that provided Sporting KC an opportunity to equalize. Collectively, Seattle never felt dominant — never in control. As a result, Sporting KC hung around, nagging each and every Sounders possession until a rocket pass toward the back post by Dia culminated in an easy tap-in-equalizer for Dwyer.
How quickly a game can change.
3. All eyes now are on Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup Final
A result Sunday was important for two reasons:
First, it allowed Sporting KC to rest practically its entire first-choice lineup, with starters Soni Mustivar and Paulo Nagamura only going 45 minutes each. Second, Sporting KC can focus solely on Wednesday’s final vs. the Union.
Sporting KC (fifth place) now has a four-point cushion between them and the Houston Dynamo (seventh). The former entered the week a 90 percent lock to make the playoffs according to ESPN, while the latter still has matches against FC Dallas, Seattle and Vancouver Whitecaps FC to end the regular season.
With more than a games worth of wiggle room now, Sporting KC can go full bore on Wednesday without (necessarily) needing to worry about Saturday’s matchup in Portland against the Timbers.
▪ Lopez, Dia, and Quintilla were big in the 1-1 draw. Lopez hounded Seattle in the midfield, Dia made seven tackles and Quintilla nearly netted his first league goal in the opening half. The experience could be big come playoff time.
▪ Kevin Ellis and Erik Palmer-Brown weren’t perfect, but the duo did communicate well throughout the match. A counter in the first 30 minutes could’ve lead to a Sounders goal had Ellis not checked off with Palmer-Brown to see who had Dempsey.
▪ Jacob Peterson isn’t a striker, but it’s still fun to see him at the top of the attack. Also, he’d break all his limbs for Sporting KC if it meant his team scores a goal.