Friendly by definition. But urgent by necessity.
With the days drawing closer to its Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final — six days if you’re counting — Sporting Kansas City heightened its determination to earn a result in Wednesday’s friendly against Stoke City FC of the English Premier League.
A hometown player gave it to them.
Kyler Miller took advantage of keeper Asmir Begovic’s mistake in extra time, heading Begovic’s attempted clearance back over the goalie’s head and into the net from 40 yards out to give Sporting KC a 1-1 tie against visiting Stoke City FC.
A St. Thomas Aquinas graduate, Miller estimated he had 25 to 30 fans in attendance at Livestrong Sporting Park to witness the first professional goal of his career.
“I was fortunate that (the ball) came right to me,” Miller said, wearing a British Invasion shirt to the postgame media conference. “I turned my head, and it came right to me. Fortunately, it went in the goal.
It couldn’t have come against a better opponent, either. Miller said he grew up watching Stoke City, which is preparing for its fifth straight season in England’s strongest league.
Miller ruined the club’s final stop on its three-game preseason tour in the U.S., though manager Tony Pulis still had plenty of praise for his experience in Kansas City.
“The players really enjoyed it,” Pulis said. “It’s not just the facility — it’s the people. The people were wonderful and very, very welcoming. The whole experience was first-class.”
Sporting KC has been less welcoming in terms of results. A crowd of 16,197 at Livestrong Sporting Park saw the hometown team remain unbeaten against English Premier League teams over the past three seasons.
Miller kept that record in tact seven minutes after Stoke City took a 1-0 lead behind an 84th-minute penalty kick from Michael Tonge. He was awarded the penalty shot after Konrad Warzycha was whistled for taking him down in the goalie box.
Tonge buried the penalty kick in the lower left corner, the lone blemish in an otherwise impressive start from Sporting KC goalie Eric Kronberg.
“We deserved to get a result at the end,” manager Peter Vermes said. “There’s no doubt. The guys played well. It was a good experience for all of our guys.”
In typical fashion, Sporting KC opened the friendly with a slew of backups in Vermes’ starting lineup.
Well, make that former backups. A rash of injuries has turned would-be backups into starters and top reserves. Couple those injuries with Roger Espinoza’s continued absence as he represents Honduras in the Olympics, and Sporting KC will likely be short-handed as it heads to New England on Saturday trying to halt a three-match winless streak in MLS play.
It’s no wonder Vermes viewed Wednesday as a positive outcome.
“Good day for us,” he said. “Nobody got injured.”
As for those injuries, Vermes labeled Jacob Peterson, Chance Myers and Aurelien Cullin as day-to-day, leaving them all as questionable for Saturday’s match and Wednesday’s Open Cup final.
Without them, seven of Sporting KC’s starters Wednesday were starting for the first time in 2012.
The youth showed on the offensive end. Sporting KC managed only two shots on goal in the game — though Soony Saad had a pair of opening-half chances. He ripped a shot from just outside the goalie box off the left post in the 27th minute and had another attempt deflected enough to send the ball wide left.
“I thought we were very good overall,” Vermes said. “We were a little impatient at the times in the attacking half ... but the guys played well enough easily to get the result.”