SKC Escapes Salt Lake

Sporting comes back to steal 3 road points
by Skylar Rolstad   |   Monday, July 22, 2013

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.

The tone for Sporting Kansas City's road match Saturday against Real Salt Lake was set early when Chris Wingert inexplicably slammed himself into SKC forward Kei Kamara, causing Kamara to hit the turf writhing in pain no more or less than himself.

The match was your typical Sporting KC away game, not so much the showcase of possession, individual ability or team, cohesion but rather KC's mission to get out of the other team's stadium as quickly as possible without sustaining injuries or at the expense of 3 points.

Wingert received a yellow card for the challenge, and so laid out the blueprint for the next 89 minutes. While Sporting KC escaped with an exciting 2-1 win, it wasn't without some repercussions or controversy.

Both teams were forced to play depleted squads, with Real Salt Lake missing Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio due to international duty, and Sporting missing Matt Besler for the same reason. Once again, Opara filled in well for Besler alongside Aurelien Collin. Jeff Attinella made his 1st professional start in RSL's goal while Joao Plata played up top in place of Saborio. 

While Real Salt Lake beat Sporting KC with a counter-attack after taking possession, it was not able to convert in the 1st half. RSL, a possession-oriented team, could break quickly upon finding possession, but met their match when it came to keeping the ball.

Aesthetically the game looked boring and anti-soccer, but Sporting Kansas City won the possession battle with 58% of it and 77% completed passes. In the 15th minute, there was a classic example of RSL's killer instinct upon receiving the ball and having a favorable mismatch. Plata collected the ball on the near side of the field and slid a perfectly positioned pass all the way across for Luis Gil, who sidestepped SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and launched a lobbed cross for Robbie Findley.  

Most of Saturday night's match melted down to the ball being held in the middle of the field until the player possessing it was hacked down or passed it away. The Rio Tinto faithful rose to its loudest for all the wrong reasons, to show displeasure to the referee at each no-call that went KC's way and each call that went against Salt Lake.

At the end of the 1st half, Sporting had not been shown a single yellow card while RSL already was in the book 3 times. From watching the game, it is evident that SKC was just as physical, if not more so, than their counterpart. Had the referee been proactive in the 1st half towards both teams, this game's 2nd half may not have seen a sendoff and 3 more yellow cards. 

The breakthrough for Real Salt Lake came at the hands of Nielsen, literally. In the 56th minute, Javier Morales' free kick sailed over Sporting KC's 18-yard box, where Nielsen stretched out to make what should have been a routine save overhead, but the ball bounced off his hands and fell innocently behind him, a terrible goalkeeping blunder. Findley's head plucked the ball over Sporting players and into the back of the net.

Things would only go downhill from there for the home team. 

In the 66th minute, Wingert was shown a 2nd yellow card for a tactical foul that stopped Soony Saad from dribbling the ball down the sideline. The drama writes itself, as the ensuing free kick the ball was whipped into the mixer and knocked out to Kamara. From there the ball went back toward RSL's Attinella, who had the impossible task of knocking the ball away from 4 SKC players.

Finally, the ball found Saad's foot from a half-bicycle kick that thumped the ball into the back of the net.

Needless to say, Saad once again had an excellent game at left wing for Sporting. My only question of SKC manager Peter Vermes' lineup was Peterson Joseph's inclusion after returning from Gold Cup play with Haiti. Joseph made sense at holding midfielder because Sporting very much needed a defensive presence in this game alongside Uri Rosell, but it would be at the expense of keeping Benny Feilhaber away from the starting XI.

From what the game showed, Feilhaber would probably have benefited Sporting KC more because KC was still able to keep possession and didn't concede very many chances. Hindsight, however, is always 20/20 and either player would have been sound in SKC's midfield. 

Much to Real Salt Lake's chagrin, the referee delayed the end of the match so stubbornly that it allowed RSL's players to grow complacent and give Sporting KC so much in terms of momentum. The energy toward an SKC goal was so ample that it could be felt right through a television screen. Sure enough, Graham Zusi's cross careened into Opara's head and the game-winner was delivered. 

Having risen to 7 games unbeaten, Sporting Kansas City will defend a lead of the Eastern Conference against the other power of the East, the Montreal Impact, next weekend at the Stade Saputo. The game will be a third chapter of a supremely exciting matchup that features 2 of the league's best attacking talents in Marco Di Vaio and Claudio Bieler. 

NEXT UP: July 27 – Sporting Kansas City vs. Montreal Impact, Stade Saputo, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 7 p.m. EST, MLS Live.

Skylar ROLSTAD

Nationality:
USA
College:
Univ. of Kansas
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
AC Milan
A student at the University of Kansas. He writes for the Sporting Kansas City club column for Soccer Newsday and is a regular at Sporting Park. His passion for soccer can best be described as unhealthy.
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