Sporting a light blue face mask and bright orange cape, a cartoon sketch of “Captain KC” flashed up on the giant screens at either end of Children’s Mercy Park. He and the rest of “Vermes’ Army” were set to come up against the evil Colorado Rapids and their sidekick “zombie prairie dogs.”
In reality? The man behind the mask was Sporting Kansas City long-term captain, Matt Besler, as Sporting KC went full comic-book theme for Kick Childhood Cancer Night.
As for the zombie prairie dogs? Colorado had to cancel a fireworks show earlier in the season due to plague-infested fleas occupying prairie dogs in the area.
And like any good comic book, Saturday night’s game between Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids had plenty of drama; early action, own goals, red cards, controversial decisions and old friends-turned-enemies coming back to haunt the home crowd.
And it was only right that Captain KC himself was at the heart of the early drama, as Kansas City fell 3-2 to Colorado thanks to two goals from a pair of former Kansas City players.
Picking up a pair of yellow cards and subsequently a red card within the first 20 minutes, Besler found himself heading for an early shower on his 300th appearance for Kansas City.
Besler picked up his first yellow card eight minutes into the game after clattering into former Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara. Just 12 minutes later Besler, the Sporting KC captain, was given his marching orders after a high kick caught Colorado’s Sam Nicholson in the face.
While the challenge was most certainly a free kick, the second yellow card was questionable at the very least as Nicholson appeared to also lower his head toward Besler’s rising boot. The red card is just the third of Besler’s MLS career.
The two early goals provided Kansas City a cushy 2-0 lead to protect — it was just the third time since May that Kansas City had scored two or more goals at home — but it was still not enough as Colorado scored three consecutive goals.
Two goals the final 15 minutes of play flipped the script on its head.
“Matt’s an important part of our team, but I think it was a game we’re at the minimum capable of getting a result from,” goalkeeper Tim Melia said of Besler. “And for whatever reason, we’re not defending as a group in our area, we’re not tough enough in our area, we’re not holding guys off, we’re giving guys opportunities in bad places.”
Gerso Fernandes broke the deadlock in the third minute from close range after Graham Zusi drilled in a tantalizing cross across the face of goal. Kansas City doubled its lead 11 minutes later from another goalmouth scramble, but this time Colorado’s Tommy Smith poked the ball into his own net for an own goal.
In the absence of Besler, Spanish stalwart midfielder Ilie Sanchez dropped back from defensive midfield to center back to restore the back four.
The impromptu change held strong for most of the game. Having played either a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 much of the season, manager Peter Vermes has most recently adapted to a 4-2-3-1 — two defensive midfielders behind a midfield three and one forward.
Following the red, card, Ilie simply dropped back to cover Besler’s hole while Felipe Gutierrez and Roger Espinoza occupied the two defensive midfielder roles.
“I didn’t think we were down a man,” Vermes said. “We played hard, we tried. Obviously some of the situations, they happen, they happen. But it’s not for a lack of trying, I don’t want to say that at all.”
Playing with a man deficit for 70 minutes, Kamara managed to pull one back for Colorado on the stroke of halftime. Controlling an inswinging corner with his chest, Kamara held off Botond Barath to send a beautiful close-range bicycle kick into the top right corner.
And like a true villain, Kamara, who spent five seasons in Kansas City, blew kisses to the silenced South Stand that used to adore him.
Spending much of the second half pinned back in its own half, being heavily out-possessed and out-shot, Kansas City finally crumbled in the 76th minute thanks to another former player. Diego Rubio, who was traded to Colorado ahead of the 2019 season, fired home in front of The Cauldron to level things up at 2-2.
“That’s what makes it so frustrating,” Melia said. “We know what to expect, both those players have played here, I’ve played with Rubio for a few years, everyone, for the most part, knows what they’re capable of and just weren’t in tune to them.”
Smith then redeemed himself by scoring the winning goal with just five minutes left on the clock.
The result is yet another crushing blow to Kansas City’s playoff hopes, as the team now sits 11th in the Western Conference with three games remaining.