As adamant as the Chicago Fire fans are that there is no bad blood between the two Midwestern clubs, the loss tonight seemed to point in a different direction. The two things that led to the defeat - a red card and a penalty kick both given in the way of Chicago Fire's favor - not only enraged the 400+ away KC supporters and the tens of thousands watching back at home, but it also infuriated Peter Vermes, who could face legal action from the league in response to his comments on KSMO's post game show about the referee's 'controversial' calls, which in all fairness, looked to be the correct decisions.
Surely Peter Vermes couldn't blame the entire match on two single plays could he? The second goal was almost completely Kei Kamara's fault while at parts of the second half Sporting KC struggled to create offensively. A lack of fresh ideas and a silly mistake in SKC's own box were the perfect mixture to defeat a side that looked to be the Supporter's Shield favorites just a few short weeks ago.
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While Chicago would go on to win, it was Sporting KC who struck first. In the 31st minute Bobby Convey was elevated to cult status in my mind when he less-than-convincingly slotted home Sporting KC's first goal in three games. The various social media sites around KC and the traveling away fans exploded with pure ecstasy as the ball slowly bobbled across the line while Convey ran over to the sideline trying to celebrate for a goal he hadn't planned for. We'd done it, we'd ended the horrid goal drought and for the first time in a while we were playing with the ebb and flow of a title contending team.
Sporting KC wound down the 1st half without a hitch and as the second half begun I was salivating with thoughts of three points - three delicious points - prancing around in my head. But as the time progressed I was quickly wiping the mouths of myself and those around me as we saw Sporting KC slowly crumble apart.
What I had been afraid of leading up to the game was Dominic Oduro's and Patrick Nyarko's pace - those fears were justified as both combined well early at the beginning of the half. Peter Vermes' side were surely beginning to feel tight around the collar as chance after chance fell to the two. Then seemingly out of nowhere, just as had happened against Montreal last week, Jimmy Nielsen found himself lining up to save a PK from another Aurelien Collin foul in the box.
At first glance it seemed as if Collin had gotten mostly if not all ball but further viewing revealed Collin had gotten more of the player than anything else and had basically left the debuting referee with no choice but to give the penalty. Sebastian Grazzini stepped up and calmly curled the ball past Nielsen into the upper corner, 1-1 on what was a freezing 55 degree and dropping Chicago night.
Things went from bad to gut-wrenchingly worse as Roger Espinoza was shown a straight red moments after the goal for a follow through elbow on Chicago's Grazzini. They don't call him "Red Card Roger" for nothing you know and it seemed a little menacing to go through someone like that, especially with the elbow.
Following the red card, the fate of the game was becoming more and more decisive. Even Teal Bunbury wasn't able to turn Sporting's fortunes around as he came on for the un-inspiring CJ Sapong in the 74th minute. When Bunbury did get on the ball - and it was sparingly - I thought he showed well for a man who has gone from the United State's soccer future to second string striker on a team that's loss three games on the trot. Maybe the hard-nosed Vermes will take lessons learned tonight and switch up a lineup that's been rarely untouched since the beginning of the season. At this point I figure something's got to give for Sporting KC to get back in to the title race right?
Jimmy Nielsen 6 - Just like last week Nielsen couldn't do much about either of the opposition's two goals. It must be tough from his point of view as a captain to see this team start to slip up.
Michael Harrington 6 - Mikey has played well for SKC while the normal left back Seth Sinovic recovers from an injury. I actually thought he played pretty well despite the loss. He and Bobby Convey were definitely the better of the two wings tonight.
Aurelien Collin 5 - I didn't think too much of the clumsy challenge last week that awarded Montreal the 2nd and final goal of their shocking 2-0 win at LSP but now I'm hoping it doesn't become a habit from the big Frenchman. He's getting easier and easier to pull into silly fouls.
Matt Besler 5.5 - He and Collin got pooped on all night by Nyarko and Oduro. It was kind of surprising coming from a guy that's been nothing short of a rock in the middle of Sporting KC's defense for the past 3 years.
Chance Myers 5.5 - Just like the other week Chance didn't play up to the level we're used to seeing from him. All-around bad game.
Julio Cesar 5 - The Brazilian simply couldn't handle Grazzini or Marco Pappa in the midfield tonight. Some challenges also went astray too. (Is it just me or does it look like his age is beginning to catch up on him? He played a lot of "tired" balls)
Roger Espinoza 4.5 (Officially the lowest rating I've given someone on these things - And here's why: He ruined Sporting KC's chances of getting back into the game. Look, no matter how bad things are going - and I realize Grazzini had just scored the PK - you got to keep your cool. Very impetuous play by Roger to send SKC's chances down the drain.
Graham Zusi 6 - Slightly below average game from Zeus. Did about as much as one that's trying to play two different midfield positions could do.
Bobby Convey 6 (man of the match) - Bobby played really well tonight and scored Sporting KC's only goal. Hopefully he's turning a page in his short career with Sporting KC.
CJ Sapong 6 - In the first half especially I though CJ played quite well, he was unfortunate to not have had at the minimum a shot on goal. However, I feel something's different about CJ, and the entire offense on that note.
Kei Kamara 5 - His mistake lead directly to the second goal and ultimately the dagger that ripped through Sporting KC's chance at a draw. He also looked a step behind Chicago while on the offense.
*Note: I apologize for the lack of a pregame preview and three questions this weekend.