Sporting KC recovered from an early Jorge Claros own goal, with a beautifully curled-in free kick by Antonio Dovale just minutes later, as they draw Real Esteli 1-1 in Nicaragua. (Watch the GIF of Dovale’s curler.) With a starter-laden starting XI, as well as the inability to turn possession into chances, and the frustrating nature of just getting “CONCACAF’d,” the team can’t help but feel disappointed in not leaving with three points.
Here’s 5 takeaways from tonight’s game:
1. Sporting played outside of their own strengths
Real Esteli established the run of play early despite SKC owning the possession meter (65 percent at the half, 59 percent for the game). Sporting really did a great job in keeping/winning possession, but their key problem tonight was translating it into chances. That stings quite a bit because of Sapong’s inherent size and athleticism advantage over the Esteli defense. When Sporting KC featured its playmakers, Zusi and Feilhaber, for a combined 90 minutes, yet were unable to set-up more chances, you can really see why Sporting leaves with a draw instead of a win.
2. Team must hold its emotions in check, starting from the top
Vermes was a constant caricature of fuming anger throughout the match, and for good reason. Esteli made no qualms about matching Sporting’s physical brand of play style, but they went about it dangerously. Esteli players also were unwilling to take what they dished, as their flopping–erm, ‘going down easily’– was a theme in the match.
That effect trickled down to other Sporting players, most notably Aurelien Collin. Collin got stuck with a questionable yellow and a dangerous play foul right outside the Sporting penalty box. Seen here:
Everybody involved has to understand/get used to the ‘CONCACAF’ factor of refereeing. They can’t let it distract them mentally, especially for a team that prides itself on the mental aspect of the game. This got better in the second half, but Twitter was abuzz with the constant displays of mental anguish from the Sporting side.
The more I watch Vermes in this match, the more I wonder if his emotions got seized at customs.
— Steve Brisendine (@SteveBrisendine) August 20, 2014
@SteveBrisendine He had to know they'd get CONCACAF'd. Just gotta prepare for it.
— Ryan Schneider (@ryan_schneider) August 20, 2014
Collin needs to settle down, the ref has started calling things much tighter than early in the game.
— Mike Kuhn (@downthebyline) August 20, 2014
3. Kempin’ it real
Kempin continues to make a case for the starting GK position, even when Kronberg gets back.
In case you didn’t watch the game (with the broadcasting schedule, can’t blame you): The first goal wasn’t his fault. He stopped the shot, but the rebound hit Claros, who was chasing down the Esteli shooter, and he scored an own goal.
Around the middle of the 20th minute block, Esteli whipped in a corner kick to the far post, which Besler badly misplayed. The ensuing header went wide, but Kempin’s amazing reactionary ability had him in position to get a hand on the shot, had it gone a foot-more to the goal. His ability to make reaction saves is MLS-quality, if not higher.
Once again, he made a game-saving, key stop tonight, this time in the 80th. He stopped Esteli winger Juan Barrera on a wide open, one-time shot on the far post. Had Kempin not made yet another Save of the Week worthy stop, Real Esteli might’ve recorded their first-ever CONCACAF Champions League victory.
4. Vermes went for the 3 points and…
We only came away with one. Vermes and crew have to be disappointed with the result. A starting XI that contained mostly starters (Kempin, Besler, Collin, Sinovic, Zusi, and Saad). His substitution tactics displayed a win-first attitude: He subbed in Feilhaber for Zusi in the 67nd minute, then Dwyer for Saad in the 71st. Neither move gave Sporting KC the result it wanted.
With a key match vs the red-hot DC United at Sporting in five days, fans can’t help but wonder the effect fatigue will have in that match. I don’t think it was a shrewd decision by Vermes to go for a starter-heavy lineup, then compound the decision with starter-quality subs.
The match was ugly, the turf was awful, and Esteli played recklessly. Forget the three points; Sporting is lucky to escape without any injuries.
5. Going forward in CONCACAF
SKC is in good position going forward. They recorded an away goal. (Hey, does Claros’ own goal count as 2 AG’s…?!) They host their next two matches at home against team’s of inferior quality. Being at home in a CONCACAF match is a huge advantage. The referees in CONCACAF tend to make head scratching calls on the regular, but, based off anecdotal evidence, they often benefit the home team. Esteli have ‘used up’ both home matches, so their position in first is a precarious one with an all-away schedule remaining.
Of course, you might think twice about Costa Rican-based Saprissa after the nation’s run in the World Cup…but you really shouldn’t. Only two players from the squad made the WC team, defender Michael Umaña and defensive midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda. However, both did play significant minutes as starters in the WC run.
1. Real Esteli 2 GP; 0 W, 0 L, 2 D
2. Sporting KC 1 GP; 0 W, 0 L, 1 D
2. Saprissa 1 GP; 0 W, 0 L, 1 D
SKC remaining schedule:
- Sept: 18 v Saprissa (Sporting Park)
- Sept. 23 v Esteli (Sporting Park)
- Oct. 23 v Saprissa (Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá)
Watch the game’s video hightlights here, courtesy CONCACAF