Sporting KC 1-1 Chivas USA - The Streak Goes On... But Just Barely

KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 9: Omar Bravo #99 of Sporting Kansas City celebrates after scoring the tying goal during added time against Chivas USA on July 9, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

 "The ball is round... A match lasts 90 minutes"
-Sepp Herberger

Sporting Kansas City needed all 90 minutes, even more than that, to keep their unbeaten streak alive, extending it to 10 games in the league and 12 in all competitions. After going down for a second consecutive time at home in the first half, Omar Bravo was the one to provide the late game heroics to score the equalizer in the 3rd minute of 4 minutes total in second half stoppage time.

Chivas USA struck first in the 30th minute when Nick LaBrocca slotted the ball past Jimmy Nielsen after a Justin Braun through-ball opened up the Sporting Kansas City defense. That moment started the clock on a gradual change in tactics from a side that showed no fears in coming out and attacking to one which hardly made a foray into Kansas City's half of the field and was playing at least 5 players in the back. The shift to an ultra-defensive mindset seemed that it would be successful up until the very end.

What results is a mixture of feelings by most Sporting Kansas City fans - elation with the draw and remaining undefeated at home - along with undefeated streak, but also frustration to have needed to come from behind again and annoyance that the team couldn't get a victory against what most consider to be a beatable side with Chivas. Likewise, Chivas USA fans probably feel as if the game was a loss - coming so close to 3 points only to have 2 ripped away at the very last is a tough thing to swallow, and Sporting Kansas City fans know exactly how they feel after losing two points deep into stoppage time in Vancouver.  

Still, for Sporting Kansas City fans, one point is one point and a draw is significantly better than a loss.  

More after the break, including surprising substitutions and more frustration with the officials.

The game started off relatively slow for both sides, likely a factor of the 91 degree temperature at kickoff along with ~70% humidity.  Chivas ended up with the first truly good opportunity where a couple of poor clearances allowed LaBrocca to attempt to chip Jimmy Nielsen but ended up hitting the crossbar.  Nielsen still had the presence of mind to punch the rebound off the crossbar away from a lurking Chivas attacker and was finally able to collect, but nobody could deny that Sporting were lucky to get away from that situation without conceeding.  

It was then Kansas City's time to threaten when Graham Zusi managed to put Stocjev in on goal, but the Serbian midfielder/forward decided to not  take the shot and the move broke down. Whether it was that he couldn't get it to his favored foot or something else is not really known, but it was a really good opportunity which should have at least resulted in Dan Kennedy, the Chivas goalkeeper, being tested.

Sporting Kansas City seemed to have slight better of the run of play from that point until the Chivas goal; a few half chances were made: Sapong a slip and a few inches off from a through ball and some crosses from the two attacking fullbacks which had a variety of success but nothing even reaching the head or foot of a Sporting Kansas City attacker.  

Chivas broke the deadlock on a well worked play; the ball came into Blair Gavin and Chance Myers came up to challenge - though Chance almost managed to cause the turnover, Blair was able to get the ball off to Justin Braun. Now Kansas City only had 3 at the back to mark Jorge Flores, Justin Braun and Nick LaBrocca: Collin had moved over to help fill the space Myers had left when he came up to challenge Gavin and so Besler was caught trying to recover and get in front of Braun.  A well weighted pass from Braun to LaBrocca resulted in an easy finish past Jimmy Nielsen.

From that point on you knew it would be a difficult day for Kansas City.  Having to come back from yet another deficit at home was hard enough, but it was expected that Chivas would sit back on the one goal cushion and hope they could ride out the storm.  For Chivas, a point away from home would be a pretty good result, particularly against a resurgent Kansas City who were already making their stadium into the beginnings of a fortress.  The final stats tell quite a bit - 63% possession for Sporting Kansas City, though Chivas did have 8 attempts on goal for the remainder of the match, many of which came from fast breaks or set pieces.  

While the game wasn't necessarily going Kansas City's way, it was a surprise when Peter Vermes made a change only 38 minutes into the first half, pulling Milos Stocjev and replacing him with Kei Kamara, particularly since it wasn't as if Stocjev was injured or otherwise unfit to play.  Vermes explained afterwards that he felt that Kamara would be a 'mismatch' from an athletic perspective; it is no secret that Stocjev isn't the fastest or most athletic player on the team, but the change begs to question whether Vermes was particularly unhappy with Stocjev's play to that point in the game.  

That wasn't the end of the unusually early subbing, either - Vermes went ahead and made his 2nd change after halftime, leaving only one more change available for the remainder of the second half.  The change at half was to replace Julio Cesar with Luke Sassano - a change which was not expounded upon in the post-game press conference.

From that point on, it was Kansas City which were the clear aggressors with Chivas trying to get most of their opportunities on the counter attack and were very conservative with any possession that they maintained, using the time to take a bit of the pressure off the defense and frustrate Kansas City by not giving them opportunities to win the ball back. They also tried to slow things down when possible and played for the foul in many instances, though plenty of the 15 fouls called on Kansas City were also a result of frustration by the side as well.

The most contentious moment of the match came from yet another no-call on a PK claim, once again for a challenge on Omar Bravo by Michael Lahoud.  What appeared to be a clumsy challenge which force Bravo to the ground was not called, much to the displeasure of the crowd.  Whether or not it truly should have been a penalty, which I personally think it was, Kansas City fans have got to be wondering when they're going to get a bit of the home-field advantage in the officiating realm that they were on the other side of for those first 10 games.

Kansas City didn't bemoan their poor fortune and instead started to really poor the pressure on.  Dan Kennedy had to make some rather spectacular saves to keep the score level.  First he had to get down to his right quickly on a good shot from Chance Myers coming in late on the back post, not only parrying the ball away but managing to direct it away from Kei Kamara and CJ Sapong waiting to pounce on any rebound coming their way.  Next was a surprising shot by Matt Besler who was allowed space to run into and try his luck from distance; the ball looked to be dipping right below the crossbar before Kennedy got fingertips to it. Kei Kamara was next, on the receiving end of a well weighted header by Chance Myers.  Kei really got a hold of his shot and Kennedy almost wasn't able to direct it past the far post.  The best save came last, with an Omar Bravo header that was aimed perfectly for the bottom corner being kept out by one of the best saves seen in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park yet.

It was because of this that, if this was a meaningless game at the end of the season with both teams having locked up their positions, that you might feel sorry for Kennedy when he was unable to make the final save of the night. But this wasn't a meaningless game and the thousands of Sporting Kansas City fans who stood up in unison the celebrate the latest drama to grace the stage at LSP were hardly thinking about Kennedy.  What started out with yet another long ball from Matt Besler in the back was met by CJ Sapong, who was interestingly enough challenging for the ball along with Aurelien Collin who had been pushed up into the attack.  This nearly fell to Kei Kamara but was intercepted instead by Zarek Valentin who could only direct the ball towards goal and a lurking Omar Bravo.  Bravo, by being in the right place in the right time yet again this season, powered a header from only a few yards out into the perfect place on goal - replays from behind the goal show that Kennedy was only inches away from a save that would have broken Kansas City soccer fans' hearts everywhere, but in a game of inches, Bravo had finally won out.

With that goal, Kansas City was able to feel what it was like to be on the other side of the Vancouver game earlier in the year - an away side having seemingly done enough to secure the win being robbed of two points at the very death of the game.  Many Sporting fans will say that they would much rather see the team winning these games - ones which seem much more winnable than some of the league leaders who are set to come visit later in the year... but you won't find a single one who wasn't ecstatic that the team battled on through the very last and kept this unbeaten run alive.  

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