The red card appeared from referee Juan Guzman’s back pocket, prompting Sporting Kansas City defender Jimmy Medranda to make an earlier-than-anticipated stroll to the locker room.
Almost instantly, Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin turned to his bench and summoned midfielder Roland Alberg to check into the match.
The substitution scoreboard lit up in the 65th minute on Saturday.
Alberg had the game-winning strike only two minutes later.
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Alberg stuck a ball into the upper corner of the net, exploiting Philadelphia’s one-man advantage for a 2-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa.
Sporting, 11-12-5, finished the match with nine men after Roger Espinoza was also ejected in the 87th minute. After Espinoza’s was tossed, Philadelphia midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta supplied the finishing touches on the match with a goal in stoppage time.
Both red cards drew the ire of Sporting KC players on the field — especially the one handed to Espinoza late in the match.
“We’re coming off five games in 15 days, and it’s the fifth game, and we’re down two men? Come on. Sorry, but we only have so much in us,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview.
Sporting has not won away from home since April 9, a span of 12 matches.
Oddly enough, the road woes intertwine with a spell in which Sporting has solved its home struggles. The club has won six straight matches inside Children’s Mercy Park, a streak that propelled the club into solid footing in the Western Conference playoff race.
But the latest road defeat was highlighted by the second-half ejections.
Medranda was given his second yellow card of the match in the 59th minute, the result of a foul near the box. He also picked up a yellow card midway through the first half, and it was the first one that sparked debate.
After Alberg turned that ensuing one-man advantage into a 1-0 lead, he became the center of another play in the 87th minute. Espinoza was dribbling a ball out of his own end when he used his arm to shield Alberg, who surged backward upon contact to sell the call.
Guzman gave Espinoza a straight red card for the play.
“There’s a thing in this game — it’s called protecting the ball, right? And you can use your body,” Vermes said. “Roger doesn’t throw his arm up at the guy’s head or anything. So if anything, it should be a foul on the other guy.”
The two ejections come with mandatory one-game suspensions, though Vermes said in the postgame phone call that he plans to appeal the Espinoza red card.
Absent a full lineup, Sporting KC managed its best opportunity — Dom Dwyer taking on a pair of Union defenders. Dwyer skidded a shot less than a foot wide of the far post with the match still scoreless.
Philadelphia keeper Andre Blake made only two saves for the shutout. Sporting KC keeper Alec Kann made six in the loss.
Sporting will not play again until Sept. 9, when it plays host to the Houston Dynamo at Children’s Mercy Park.
“I give our guys a lot of credit because they worked hard and they tried to hang in there,” Vermes said. “With the number of games in the number of days and the travel we had to do, it was just way, way, way too much.”