KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City flustered a normally composed Real Salt Lake side on Wednesday night, something that certainly didn’t sit well with Jason Kreis.
RSL may have held the vast majority of possession against SKC at Livestrong Sporting Park, but that statistic wasn’t enough to keep Kreis from bemoaning the effect the home team’s high pressure had on his side.
Though that pressure abated considerably following Roger Espinoza’s 57th-minute dismissal, Kreis admitted his team didn’t respond well to Sporting’s on-ball harassment following a 2-0 defeat.
“I thought Kansas City had the momentum for most of the first half and really put us under things,” Kreis said. “[They] tried to press in our half of the field and make it difficult for us. We took the unwise choice of continuing to try to pass out of that pressure. That led to us giving the ball away about 25 yards away from our goal, and all of a sudden it’s in the back of the goal.”
Roger Espinoza’s opening goal in the 29th minute was the direct result of Sporting’s pressure, and Graham Zusi and Jéferson were also active all night whenever RSL thought they had a spare moment on the ball. Zusi said becoming accustomed to Jéferson’s presence and tendencies in the midfield was crucial to working together to put the visitors on their heels.
“We were able to anticipate what the person next to us was going to do,” Zusi said. “The pressure that we put on their midfield was hugely different than what it’s been in the past.”
In the big picture, the result was a victory and three points against what most recognize as one of Major League Soccer’s best possession teams. It’s an accomplishment that should buoy Kansas City’s confidence ahead of another tough matchup with a possession oriented squad in the Seattle Sounders on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“Salt Lake just weren’t able to string together the types of passes that they are used to,” Zusi said.
Vermes praises Espinoza’s play despite dismissal
Sporting manager Peter Vermes couldn’t have been happy with Espinoza’s ejection in the 56th minute, but that didn’t keep him from praising his combative midfielder after the match.
Kansas City’s midfield trio of Espinoza, Zusi and Jeferson took turns flustering RSL’s midfield and back line, but the Honduran in particular was relentless in his pursuit of the ball. His opening goal was the result of an opportunistic steal at the top of the visitor’s penalty area and subsequent burst into the box.
“Roger was at a different level tonight,” Vermes said. “Not just his goal but his pressing and anticipation on the ball.”
The red card was Espinoza’s first in league play since his rookie year in 2008, when he was sent off twice in 22 appearances. Vermes acknowledged Espinoza could be unyielding at times in his pursuit of the ball but said he couldn’t comment on the play itself as he didn’t see it live and hadn’t had a chance to view the replay.
“Roger is aggressive,” he said. “He’s not a dirty guy. … What he really did [tonight] is something we talk about, trying to win the ball in their half of the field. From the opening whistle, his commitment to press the ball and cut out passing lanes was fantastic. He didn’t give up on any play.”
Myers held back with quad issue
Chance Myers, who had started Sporting’s last 13 games during their 14-game unbeaten streak, was held out of the lineup and kept off the substitute’s bench with what Vermes called a minor quad strain.
Vermes said Myers could possibly be ready to return to the lineup this weekend, but he wouldn’t rush him back with Michael Harrington able to fill in comfortably at right back.
“As much as I think maybe [Myers] could have pushed it, it just doesn’t make sense,” Vermes said. “I’m a big believer that when you have muscle injuries, you’ve got to give the guy time to rest. It is really going to be a day-to-day thing.”