Sporting KC

Red cards highlight heated rivalry as Sporting KC dents Portland’s playoff hopes

Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Nemeth (No. 9) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first half of Sunday’s game vs. Portland.
Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Nemeth (No. 9) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first half of Sunday’s game vs. Portland. AP

Having already been eliminated from playoff contention, there wasn’t anything truly on the line for Sporting Kansas City in Sunday night’s final home game of the season.

But facing a Portland Timbers side scrambling for one of the final playoff spots that Sporting KC had so badly desired, the home team gave its fans at Children’s Mercy Park one last reason to smile in 2019.

With memories of last year’s Western Conference Final defeat to Portland still somewhat fresh, Sporting KC (10-15-8) played to a 2-2 tie and took crucial points away from the Timbers. A total of three red cards symbolized the heated rivalry between the two teams.

A win for Portland could have clinched a playoff spot. Instead, the Timbers are now in a precarious position.

And just as revenge is a dish best served cold, the icing on the cake came just minutes into the second half, right in front of The Cauldron — the one remaining packed section of the stadium.

After 1,444 minutes of action in 2019, homegrown winger Daniel Salloi finally broke his goal-scoring drought in the 46th minute. Controlling the ball after a shot that cannoned off the post landed at his feet, Salloi took a quick touch before burying it in the bottom right corner.

“This goal meant more than you would think,” Salloi said. “It was an amazing feeling, honestly, because it’s been a difficult year and I think you could see how my team reacted.”

A dogpile ensued as Salloi was dragged down by teammates. The young Hungarian had picked up the club’s golden boot in 2018, scoring 16 goals across all competitions.

“I think if you would have put all your money on me not scoring any goals this year — or I guess one, so far — then this is the only year when it would have actually worked,” Salloi said.

Dominating much of the opening 30 minutes, Kansas City looked more like the team vying for the playoffs, outshooting Portland 7-0 at one point. But it was Portland who opened the scoring in the 29th minute through Sebastian Blanco.

A turnover by Graham Zusi led to a quick attack down Sporting KC’s right-hand side. Blanco fired a shot off the underside of the bar and in from the edge of the box.

But the visitors’ lead lasted just a minute, as Krisztian Nemeth scored his first goal since May 18 off a cross from Johnny Russell.

The pair of goals opened up the game considerably, ultimately leading to a heated scuffle and two red cards less than 10 minutes later. The first was issued to Portland’s Brian Fernandez, who got in the face of Felipe Gutierrez following a tough challenge.

The altercation led to an all-out shoving match between the two teams, resulting in a second yellow for Fernandez and a straight red card for Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza.

The red card to Espinoza, who captained Sporting KC with Matt Besler beginning the match on the bench, was his third of the season — and ultimately spelled the end of his season.

Both red cards were issued due to violent conduct; Espinoza for putting his hands around the neck of Blanco and Fernandez for swinging at the back of a Kansas City player’s head.

“I think for both teams it’s a silly play, lack of discipline — it’s pretty naive for both teams, including us,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “No reason to get involved in an altercation like that.”

Besler eventually made an appearance in the 85th minute following another red card for Sporting KC, this time to Ilie Sanchez.

Sanchez, who started over Besler at center back for the second straight game, was issued a straight red after pulling back Jeremy Ebobisse in the box. Dairon Asprilla converted the spot kick to tie it at 2.

“I thought there’s positive and negative. The positive is, for the most part, I think we created the most chances between the two teams,” Vermes said. “We were better overall in the game.

“The negative is we gave up two silly goals and we had so many chances other than the two we scored,” he continued. “We don’t finish the team off, and unfortunately, that’s kind of what we’ve done this season.”

Sporting KC draws the curtains on its season next Sunday on the road against FC Dallas, which sits just a point behind Portland.