Sporting Kansas City gave up a 95th minute goal on Saturday to drop two points on the road against the Chicago Fire just seconds before the final whistle. In the moment many fans were upset with Tim Melia for coming out for the ball. It’s possible Melia should get a little blame, but as is often the case, much more went wrong on the play.
Right at the end of the 94th minute Roberto Puncec cleared a ball that by all accounts may have ended the game. But before the referee could look down and check his watch, the ball was flighted back into the box and Djordje Mihailovic scored a mere 10 seconds after the minimum of four minutes of stoppage time had elapsed. By no means an egregious allowance of play going on by the referee. At least not nearly as much time as it felt like in real time.
Not that you want to watch it again, but start with that.
Now let’s look at it via the YouTube highlights since the replay is unavailable on ESPN+ since it was a nationally broadcast game. Forgive me now for the blurriness of the screencaps. We make due.
Update 10/20/2020: In the below images, I’ve incorrectly labeled Felipe Hernandez as Cam Duke. My apologies to Cameron Duke!
This is 94:00 exactly and just a split second after Puncec clears the ball. Amadou Dia (top right) is still up the field making his way back. All the other defenders, including defensive midfielder Ilie Sanchez, are roughly in position. Felipe Hernandez is currently tracking back, until the ball is cleared.
Screen 2 (Two Angles)
From here you can see the backline steps to keep the Chicago attackers — Robert Beric and Elliot Collier (who are out of frame) — offside. Both caps are taken a split second after the ball is kicked by the Chicago defender back towards the box. The defender isn’t credited for an assist, but I’m not sure why not as his pass sets everything up.
Notice that Felipe Hernandez has turned and charged towards where the ball was cleared towards, but he obviously doesn’t get anywhere close. Roger Espinoza has also turned, but barely moved. Johnny Russell is walking back but his man is out of the play. I don’t know that any of them are really to blame as you’ll see in a second, but I’d rather see Hernandez stay deeper as the game is seconds from ending and it’s better to be able to get back and help, should the need arise with Sporting KC up a goal.
Screen 3 (Two Angles)
Here it is tough to see from the compressed YouTube video, but in the shot below, you can see Ilie Sanchez stand still and raise his hand, knowing that Collier and Beric are offside. However, attacking midfielder Mihailovic is well onside and it’s likely that’s Ilie’s man. Instead of tracking him, he simply stops with his arm in the air.
You can see Reid and Puncec turn and head back to defend along with RB Jaylin Lindsey. Lindsey has two players — that are admittedly currently offside — but he still has to think about them.
Screen 4 (Two Angles)
These are slightly off. As you can see in the top shot the separation isn’t as obvious in the bottom shot but they are from roughly the same point. Ilie is still standing with his arm up as Mihailovic tracks towards the ball with multiple defenders trying to keep pace.
Screen 5 (Two Angles)
There are a few things worth noticing from these angles. First, Ilie still hasn’t moved (maybe a step or two) and he’s now completely out of the play. Second, the pace of the fresh Mihalovic is obvious as he ran through a tired backline, which makes sense since he just came on. Third, Mihalovic’s touch is great here. It seemed obvious in real time that Melia should win this ball but in fact he doesn’t ever have a chance. Djordje touches it around him with ease.
Does Melia come off his line too late? It’s hard to tell as he can’t be seen until he bursts into frame. And it’s obvious why he lets up at the end as he’s beaten and any tackle would have likely resulted in a penalty kick.
Mihailovic is wide open after his great touch but Puncec and Reid are still charging back hard. Jaylin Lindsey on the other hand appears to have let up slightly. It seems Djordje is about to pass the ball into an empty net, but not quite.
Just two seconds later and Puncec has slid past Mihailovic in an effort to block a shot that was instead a cut back and Reid properly has position himself on the line (even if it’s of no hope at this point). You can see Lindsey still slightly behind. I believe if he keeps pushing hard, when Mihailovic cuts the ball back to avoid the sliding Puncec, Lindsey may have been able to pressure him. Also of note is Ilie is barely in frame because he’s taken a mere couple of steps.
So Who’s to Blame?
The primary blame has to go on Ilie here. As a defensive midfielder, you are generally responsible for the other team’s attacking midfielder. He raises his hand and stands around, missing Mihailovic’s run entirely. He’s a spectator. It’ll be interesting to see if he starts with a full week of rest. Busio seems to never stop running, if he were in this role, does he get there?
There is potentially some blame on Melia, but it’s hard to tell. Should he have stayed in his goal and just tried to cut down the angle? Hindsight is 20/20 so that sounds better than a wide open net. Then again, this is the kind of play Melia makes all the time. I can’t blame him too much for doing what he does. He’s been pretty remarkable for the most part over these last few years.
There is a tiny little secondary blame on Lindsey. I give him a pretty big pass because he has two attackers right near him that are pulling his attention away. However, I’d like to see him gut out those final few seconds and pressure Mihailovic. Sometimes that’s all it takes to mess up a touch, put a shot off or break up a play.
The biggest stretch of all is Felipe Hernandez. He takes a bad step and runs, what turns out to be, away from the play. As another midfielder, it’s possible he has some responsibility to track back and defend the midfielders. It’s not clear if Mihailovic is Hernandez’s man, Espinoza’s or Ilie’s. The point is, there is no point in going forward there, with seconds to go and his team having the lead.
I’d also be remiss to not but a little blame on COVID. Without the pandemic, the schedule wouldn’t have seen SKC playing their third game in just six days, with a mere two days between each game. It’s the worst stretch Sporting has faced all season and led to back-to-back lackluster games on the road.
In the end, it’s two points dropped, but everyone is dropping points this year. I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying for weeks — get hot at the end and anyone can win. It still doesn’t make this one hurt any less.