Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By TATE STEINLAGE
Some 1,800 miles away from Sporting Park in Esteli, Nicaragua, Sporting Kansas City had one mission: survive.
The reigning MLS Cup champions did just that Tuesday against Real Esteli FC in CONCACAF Champions League action, though the performance was anything but easy — or pretty. Sporting KC battled back from a 1-0 deficit to earn a 1-1 draw at the tiny but fervent Estadio Independencia.
Toni Dovale scored the equalizer for Sporting KC, a 16th minute wonder strike off a free kick, but 21-year-old goalkeeper Jon Kempin provided the heroics late, making save after save to keep his side above water in Group 2.
“Nothing changes when we play,” Vermes said about the match in a post-game teleconference. “We want to go and get three points. There’s a lot of things within the game that wound up being very difficult. It was not an easy game to play for a number of reasons.
“At the end, to come here and get a point from them in their place, it’s good. We just got to make sure we take care of business at home. We wanted to get three, obviously we didn’t, but we walk away with points at their place.”
Real Esteli opened the scoring six minutes into the match on an own goal from Sporting KC midfielder Jorge Claros. Kempin denied the initial shot from Daniel Da Silva in front of goal, but the follow up took an unfortunate bounce off Claros’ leg and into the back of the net. It was a magic moment for the home crowd, which has never witnessed their club win in this tournament.
The cheers drowned out, momentarily at least, 10 minutes later when Dovale bended his free kick into the back of the net to pull Sporting KC equal. Real Esteli goalkeeper Justo Llorente was frozen on the shot as Dovale rushed to the corner to celebrate.
Sporting KC pushed for a second before halftime, but the quality in the final third lacked as Real Esteli focused on countering attack after attack.
The second half lacked the up-tempo style the opening 45 minutes provided, perhaps due to a mix of humidity, physicality, and pitch surface — all three of which Vermes noted in his post-game comments.
“I think the management of the game was horrendous, I really do,” Vermes said. “I don’t even have to go too deep into it.
“We threw the ball in, and we’re right behind it, and the referee calls offside. There’s no offside on a throw in.
“From the opening whistle there was a lack of ability on their part. They (officials) had a very, very poor game, and it’s unfortunate, especially for the guys up front, who kept getting beat up and the referee did nothing to protect them.”
Days after making his first starting in Major League Soccer, Kempin helped keep Real Esteli from netting a second tally. The goalkeeper made a handful of impressive plays, but none more important than his efforts in the 81st and 82nd minutes on shots that appeared to be sure-strikes.
“He was good,” Vermes said about Kempin. “I think he had a decent game. There’s not much else to say, he had to make some saves here and there but he was good tonight.”
With the result, Real Esteli move into first place in Group 2 with two points after two group stage matches. Sporting KC earn a tough road point in their CCL opener, and now must turn their attention back to MLS action and a home match against D.C. United set for Saturday at Sporting Park.