KANSAS CITY, Kan. — By the time media made it to Sporting Kansas City’s locker room following a scoreless draw with Chicago on Thursday night, Jimmy Nielsen was already dressed and waiting.
The ‘keeper had plenty of time to hit the showers after being shown a red card in the 67th minute for preventing a goal scoring opportunity for Chicago’s Dominic Oduro by handling the ball outside his penalty area.
Oduro got behind the Sporting defense and latched onto a long ball from midfield when Nielsen came charging out to clear the ball. Unfortunately for the Dane, the striker saw him coming and attempted to lob him, leaving Kansas City’s starting goalkeeper with few options.
“The player had a deep ball and I wanted to run out of the box and clear the ball,” Nielsen said. “He was a little faster than I expected. He took a perfect touch and I felt I had to take it with my hands, otherwise he was going to score on an empty goal. We had 30 minutes left of the game and in a different situation after one or two minutes, I probably would have let him go.”
But he didn’t and referee Michael Kennedy was forced to show Nielsen a red card. Nielsen, who chucked his gloves into the bench area on his way off the field, said he didn’t dispute the validity of the call but was frustrated by a moment he had never before experienced.
“Of course, the red card is correct,” he said. “But it was the first red card in my career and I was a little disappointed and sad.”
Smith a late scratch from starting lineup
When both team’s starting lineups were distributed an hour or so before game time, Ryan Smith was slated to start with Graham Zusi occupying a place on the bench. But when the sides marched out of the tunnel, Smith was nowhere to be found and Zusi was in the starting 11 for the fourth game in a row in all competitions.
Manager Peter Vermes said Smith strained his groin on Wednesday and tried to recover in time to take part in Livestrong Sporting Park’s opening night, but decided against risking it.
“Ryan came in early and said he felt like he tweaked his groin a little bit,” Vermes said. “They did a lot of work on him for hours before the game. He went out and did a little bit of a fitness test and just decided that he couldn’t go.”
Defense starting to find its feet
After failing to register a shutout in their first nine league games this season, Sporting now have two in their last two games.
Kansas City drew 0-0 with Toronto last Saturday and recorded the same result against Chicago on Thursday. And while they aren’t anywhere close to satisfied by those performances from an attacking perspective, captain Davy Arnaud said they feel like they’ve turned a corner on the other side of the ball.
“It’s going the right way,” Arnaud said. “At the start of the year, we were scoring a ton of goals, but we were conceding a ton of goals. At the end of the day, the best teams don’t give up soft goals and don’t concede a bunch of goals.
“Realistically, you aren’t going to win every game 5-4, 6-3 or whatever. That’s just not how it is. I think it was important to us to get back to playing good, solid defense.”
Harrington suspended for game in Dallas
Nielsen won’t be the only Sporting KC player to miss out on Sunday’s road match against FC Dallas due to suspension. Michael Harrington earned a yellow card in the first half that gave him five cautions on the year, resulting in an automatic one-game suspension.
With Roger Espinoza still on Gold Cup duty with Honduras, Vermes will likely continue using Chance Myers at right back and give Seth Sinovic his second league start at left back against FCD.