For a few minutes on Tuesday night, Sporting KC’s nightmare scenario loomed as reality.
It trailed Real Esteli FC, a Nicaraguan club team that had never won an international match in 36 tries. Advancement in the CONCACAF Champions League, which was making its debut at Sporting Park, was in doubt.
Jacob Peterson made sure Sporting KC averted disaster, coming off the bench score the equalizer in the 78th minute.
Still, the 1-1 draw didn’t sit well with Sporting KC.
“We didn’t play with enough urgency to go out and win the game, and that’s on ourselves. That’s not on anybody else,” Sporting defender Matt Besler said. “We go home tonight very disappointed. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror about how we performed tonight. The big picture is we have another game in this competition at home, and if we win that game we’re through to the next round.”
Sporting is atop the Group 2 standings with seven points and a plus-four goal differential. A draw would also suffice in the final game of group play, which is on Oct. 23 against Olimpia, a club team from Honduras.
Real Esteli FC took the lead in the 54th minute when Rudel Calero headed home a corner kick from Samuel Wilson.
Real Esteli FC came into the match having won seven consecutive titles in Nicaragua’s top league. But it was 0-29-7 all-time in international matches dating back to 1991.
It was a stunning goal, primarily because up to that point Real Esteli FC had seemed hesitant to even attempt to generate offense.
“It was a more physical game here in Kansas City. Sporting KC played faster, and for me it was very true that I had to play more in the defensive way,” Real Esteli FC manager Otoniel Olivas said through an interpreter. “The (game) in Nicaragua wasn’t the best game for us.”
Sporting KC had to battle the clock, some serious gamesmanship from Real Esteli FC, and its hot goal keeper, Justo Lorente.
It solved all three in the 78th minute. Graham Zusi played a short corner to Peterson, who beat Lorente by sliding the ball between his legs and into the back of the net.
It was a nutmeg, in soccer terminology. Peterson provided some spice at the right instant.
“We were screaming off the bench, because they had everybody at the back post,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. “Jake was standing all by himself, so it was really improvisation. Credit to Graham for seeing it, and it was a great finish by Jake for sure.”
Peterson had been on the field for only three minutes before finding a goal when his team needed it most.
“Jake has a high energy. His work rate is fantastic. One of the things he’s been lacking a little bit is a little more execution in the final third,” Vermes said.
Sporting had three prime opportunities to put the match away in stoppage time. Benny Feilhaber got a perfect setup and unleashed a rocket just inside the top of the 18-yard box, but Lorente was there to turn it away.
Ike Opara had a decent look at a header off of a bouncing ball, but his attempt was wide.
Peterson had the last look after Lorente whiffed on a clearance. Peterson settled the ball and tried to tuck it inside the right post, but that chance skittered wide as well.
“I thought he actually picked the right place, he just missed his target by a little bit. He did some work for us off the bench for sure,” Vermes said.
The draw was disappointing. But it at the very least, it wasn’t a loss.
“We want to get a win against that team to further ourselves in the standings and the table. We weren’t able to do that,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “Having said that, a point’s a point.”