Sporting Kansas City went to Nicaragua looking for three points, but had to settle for one. And instead of being out front of their CONCACAF Champions League group after their opening match, they're tied for second behind a perennial underdog that has managed to open this year's competition with a pair of draws.
“It wound up being very difficult,” manager Peter Vermes said in a conference call after Tuesday night's 1-1 away draw with Real Estelí. “It was not an easy match to play, for a number of reasons. At the end, to come here and get a point from them at their place is good. We just have to make sure we take care of business at home.”
One major hurdle in Tuesday night's opener, Vermes said, was the physicality of the match – 20 fouls for the home side, 22 for Sporting -- and what he called “horrendous” game management by Surinamese referee Enrico Wijngaarde and his crew.
“From the opening whistle there was just a lack of ability on their part,” he said. “They had a very, very poor game, and it's unfortunate for this group of guys, those three guys up front. C.J. (Sapong, Sporting's starting center forward) and Dom (Dwyer, who came on as a second-half sub) were getting beat up, and the referee did nothing to protect them.”
The artificial surface at Estadio Independencia presented its own set of challenges, Vermes added.
“The field was very hard to play,” he said. “The ball was just bouncing all over the place.”
Goalkeeper Jon Kempin helped preserve the road point with several big second-half saves, including one in the 81st minute when he had to dive to his right to parry away Juan Barrerra's shot just inside the goalpost.
“He was good,” Vermes said. “He had a decent game. I don't really know what much else to say, but he was good tonight.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.