Sporting Kansas City had plenty of reasons to wilt in its Eastern Conference showdown against Chicago on Saturday. Take a ridiculously banged-up roster, or the fact it was handed a very questionable red card, for instance.
With all that said, while Sporting KC’s 3-2 loss to Chicago at Toyota Park was certainly disappointing, it could have been worse.
“The positive is they were playing in their home opener and we played two thirds of a game a man down, and we still came back to score two goals on them,” said Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes. “If that doesn’t tell you something about the fight this team has, nothing will.”
And if this was the Major League Soccer equivalent of the “No-way-you’re-winning-today” game that would often pop up in Tecmo Super Bowl once the computer decided you were winning a little too much — and really, it was — the signs were evident from the get go, when Vermes’ group was forced to take the field with a decimated roster.
Not only were defenders Luke Sassano and defender Julio Cesar — who each started last week’s season opener — out with injuries, but starting forward Kei Kamara was away playing for his national team. The holes, plus the continued absences of 2010 starters Michael Harrington and Ryan Smith, forced Vermes to throw a number of players at odd positions this week.
“The guys were fine until the red card,” Vermes said. “It changed everything.”
Uh-huh. That came in the 32nd minute, when Chicago forward Gaston Puerari got behind the defense on a counterattack and was given a light push in the back by forward Omar Bravo. Puerari tumbled to the ground, and referee Jason Anno awarded the Fire a penalty kick and handed Bravo the first red card of his MLS career.
“It’s a joke — it shouldn’t have been a red card,” Vermes said. “If you look at the linesman on other side, he points to the corner flag because Omar kicked it over the goal.”
You can guess what happened next. Puerari converted the kick in the 34th minute, and Sporting KC — which was now forced to play the rest of the game down a man – was still in shock five minutes later when Puerari scored his second of the game to give Chicago, which improved to 1-0-1, a 2-0 lead at the break.
Sporting KC clawed its way back into the game in the 51st minute when defender Matt Besler scored on a rebound, but Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa drove the nail into the coffin in the 60th minute when he maneuvered between four — count 'em, four — Sporting KC players and hammered the ball past goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.
Forward Teal Bunbury scored a goal in the 72nd minute to cut the deficit to one, but Sporting KC could never find the equalizer at it saw its record drop to 1-1-0 on the season, largely because of the questionable red card on Bravo that Vermes was still irate about after the game.
“That call,” he said bitterly, “changed everything.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY NOTEBOOK
Day four of Kansas City’s own Chad Ochocinco Show was low-key.
While the rest of the team was in Chicago for its game against the Fire, the Cincinnati Bengals receiver was at the team’s Swope Park practice facility, going through a light, two-hour training session with the rest of the reserves.
Ochocinco and the reserves will all practice again today in preparation for their game Monday against the Kansas City Brass, a local minor league team.
Ochocinco was not made available for comment.
*A number of injuries forced coach Peter Vermes to use a slightly unorthodox lineup on Saturday. Starting fullback Roger Espinoza moved to central defender, while Scott Lorenz (who made his first start with the team) took his place at the position.
Meanwhile, two developing young defenders – Mike Jones and Kevin Ellis — suited up for the first time as insurance, while forward Teal Bunbury, who suffered a dislocated elbow a month ago, was forced into action a little sooner than Vermes would have liked.
“He was almost back to himself,” Vermes said. “He got some good playing time, though.”
Bunbury, who scored a goal in the 72nd minute, agreed.
“I mean it felt good, but we lost the game so it didn’t feel great,” Bunbury said. “It’s my job to score. I felt I was mentally prepared for it.”