With just two games to play coming into Week 33 of the MLS season, Sporting Kansas City were forced to go on the road against Real Salt Lake, a team they have lost to four consecutive times. To add to the stress Sporting KC were without Jacob Peterson and Brad Davis due to injuries and Jimmy Medranda due to yellow card accumulation. That would lead to a lineup that had Roger Espinoza playing winger, where he surprisingly appeared to stay for most of the game.
Your #SportingKC starting XI for today's Week 33 #MLS match @RealSaltLake. Coverage begins at 4pm CT @38TheSpot ➡️ https://t.co/IxQyESE1ya pic.twitter.com/FhcVhSWjan— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) October 16, 2016
The game didn’t start off pretty. RSL seemed to control most of the possession, though they were fouling Sporting a ton. The home fans at Rio Tinto spent most of the game booing the referee, but it was their players who were sloppy and late into challenges. Luke Mulholland would be the first to go in the book with a yellow, but now for the foul that should have earned him one.
Dom Dwyer was antagonizing RSL’s back line all night and honestly should have picked up a yellow for a kick out on Justin Glad. However, his biggest moment in the match was a defensive play. Off a set piece the ball bounced around in the SKC box before Dom Dwyer cleared it off the line.
Right place. Right time. Big time stop from, @Ddwyer14! #RSLvSKC pic.twitter.com/MNZH2PNi0Z— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) October 16, 2016
The true hero of this game would end up being Tim Melia. He had a fantastic game. He made four saves on the day, but his best didn’t even count. A ball was have ruled to have gone over the end line and his diving save won’t show up on the stat sheet.
Don't care that it didn't count. The athleticism that @TimMelia28 showed on this save was UNREAL! pic.twitter.com/uri9jOJNDM— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) October 16, 2016
It wasn’t an all defensive outing for Sporting KC, though they did only have 44.4 percent of the possession. Dwyer had a header that he drove down, as you are told to do, and Rimando made a fantastic diving save to prevent the goal. Probably the best chance of the night came when Kevin Ellis somehow drifted wide open and connected with his head sending the ball just wide of goal.
Despite those near misses it was a non-call that would end up leaving this game level. Benny Feilhaber was dribbling in the box and he touched the ball passed Jordan Allen only to have Allen slide and take out both of his legs. It seems like an obvious penalty, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Hmmm pic.twitter.com/U7EbdeNTkh— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) October 16, 2016
The game would end 0-0 setting up a pivotal final week of the season. Every team will play at the exact same time next Sunday, which is being dubbed Decision Day. The Timbers pulled off a win drawing them level on points with Sporting KC. SKC remains in sixth place however because they are tied on wins with Portland, but ahead on goal differential. Sporting are at minus one for the year and the Timbers are at minus two.
Even though Portland could win and Sporting could win next week, goal differential would only matter for seeding. Thankfully RSL will be playing Seattle. So if they draw it wouldn’t be enough to stay ahead of an SKC and Portland win. Remarkably, with a win next week and a draw from the RSL/Seattle game, Sporting can still end up in 4th place and host a playoff game if they score enough goals to make up the goal differential with Seattle (the Sounders are one better in this category).
All and all, this draw has to be considered a success. Sporting will return to Children’s Mercy Park to host the Earthquakes and they will control their own fate. San Jose have been out of form lately, but outside of that stolen road win a couple weeks ago, San Jose had dominated the series between these teams.
Peter Vermes expects Jacob Peterson to be healthy and back in the lineup for next weeks season finale. One road block is that Sporting KC have a pesky CONCACAF Champions League game to play in three days. Usually I would just say let the Swope Park Rangers players come up and handle the utterly meaningless game (both KC and Central FC have been eliminated from the CCL) but SPR are playing in the USL Cup Final in a week.
I hope they loan the backups from SPR to SKC and the regular SKC backups can try to handle the rest as to not waste the starters energy. The problem is with so many injuries there may not be enough healthy players to field this team without dipping into the starters. I wonder if forfeiting would be frowned upon?