For the past 70 days, the top spot in the Western Conference has belonged to either Sporting Kansas City or FC Dallas, an ongoing streak that will carry intrigue into the second half of the MLS regular season.
On Tuesday, the two teams departed from MLS play in favor of the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals inside Children’s Mercy Park.
But the drama remained.
Sporting KC spent the majority of the evening down a man but prevailed 3-0 in a match that featured three ejections and needed extra time to determine a winner.
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It was bittersweet victory for Sporting KC. Defender Ike Opara left the game on a stretcher after being kicked in the head in extra time after the teams were scoreless through regulation. Opara did provide a thumbs up to the crowd as he left to be transported to KU Medical Center for further evaluation for a concussion. He was alert there, per a team spokesperson.
“We fought really, really hard in this game, but Ike is what’s on our minds right now,” Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza said.
The match opened and closed with tributes to late co-owner Neal Patterson, who died Sunday after a battle cancer. Sporting KC defender Erik Palmer-Brown described the team as having “extra motivation” to pull out a victory.
Winger Latif Blessing made sure it arrived. Shortly after the injury to Opara, Blessing provided the game-winner, some 108 minutes after the opening whistle. Five minutes later, he had another. Daniel Salloi scored in the 119th minute for the 3-0 final.
Sporting KC will play San Jose in the Open Cup semifinals next month. The date, time and location are to be determined.
“This probably has its own special place because of Neal’s passing on Sunday,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “His big quality is that he was an incredibly hard worker. Well, the guys had to work very hard tonight for however many minutes being a man down. And they gave nothing away. They found a way to just block everything. It was unreal.”
Sporting KC played down a man for 85 minutes because of Seth Sinovic’s ejection. FC Dallas equaled the sides at 10 men apiece after Maxi Urruti was ejected for the kick to Opara’s face, his second yellow card of the match. And FC Dallas midfielder Javier Morales was ejected later in the first half of extra time for yanking on Benny Feilhaber’s jersey, putting Sporting KC 10 on 9 to finish the game.
Sporting KC held its own down a man for the majority of the match, but it took off after the ejection to Urruti. Blessing collected a pass from Feilhaber for his first goal and then cleverly back-heeled a pass from Medranda for his second goal.
“I’m here for the Cup,” Blessing said. “I came from Ghana to win Cups for Kansas City.”
It looked bleak early.
Sinovic received the escorting to the locker room in the 15th minute, an ejection triggered after he tripped FC Dallas forward Michael Barrios in the open field, a few yards past the midfield line. Referee Younes Marrakchi initially appeared to reach in his front pocket to show a yellow card but moments later removed a red card from his back pocket instead. The consensus inside the Sporting KC locker room was that it was a 50-50 call.
“It was denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by foul offense,” Marrakchi replied to a pool reporter’s written question. “I was reaching for my red card.”
Sporting KC spent considerable time arguing for the call to be matched later in the first half. In first-half of added time, FC Dallas midfielder Victor Ulloa caught Sporting KC forward Diego Rubio in the shin with the studs of his cleats. Marrakchi showed him only yellow.
To compound the friction, Sporting KC winger Gerso Fernandes scored on the ensuing free kick, but it was waved off after Rubio was called for a foul against keeper Jesse Gonzalez to keep the play alive.
As the halftime whistle arrived moments later — with the game still scoreless — Vermes stood on the field, motioning for his team to head into the locker room. Meanwhile, he remained on the grass, yelling toward Marrakchi, who quickly instructed him to leave the field.
That was more filler for a contentious match that featured nine total cards, including the reds to Sinovic (15th minute), Urruti (101) and Morales (105).
But FC Dallas failed to capitalize on its early advantage. Sporting KC didn’t waste its opportunity.
“We were on a mission, man,” Espinoza said. “In the end, we knew we had already worked hard for 75 minutes down a man. Why give up then?”
Sporting Kansas City 3, FC Dallas 0, OT
DALLAS: Jesse Gonzalez; Hernán Grana, Walker Zimmerman, Atiba Harris, Ryan Hollingshead (Javier Morales, 88th); Carlos Gruezo, Mauro Diaz, Victor Ulloa (Tesho Akindele, 46th), Michael Barrios, Roland Lamah; Maximiliano Urruti.
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara (Kevin Ellis), Erik Palmer-Brown, Seth Sinovic; Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Jimmy Medranda; Gerso Fernandes (Daniel Salloi, 85th), Diego Rubio (Benny Fielhaber), Latif Blessing.
Kansas City: 1, Blessing (Feilhaber), 105th+3 minute. 2, Blessing (Medranda), 105th+8 minute. 3, Salloi (Feilhaber), 118th minute.
Shots on goal
Dallas: Ulloa, 45th+2; Diaz, 62md; Urruti, 90th; Urruti, 101st.
Kansas City: Espinoza, 45th+3; Medranda, 65th.
Dallas: Urruti, 101st; Morales, 105th+5.
Kansas City: Sinovic, 15th.