The short first-half sequence looked like something out of a cartoon, or maybe the old Candid Camera TV show.
Time and again, Jimmy Nielsen set the ball down for a free kick – and just as Sporting Kansas City's goalkeeper stepped away, it rolled toward him, blown by winds gusting to nearly 30 mph.
“It makes you feel kind of stupid sometimes,” Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com by phone after Saturday's scoreless away draw against New England. “The referee was wanting me to kick the ball, and I can't kick the ball while it's rolling around.”
Comic moments aside, the stiff breeze was no laughing matter.
“This was not a game of soccer today,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. “This was surviving the elements. That's all it was. It was a great result for us on the road, in the elements we were just in.”
The wind forced Sporting to ditch a week of preparation and play not to concede a weather-influenced goal, Vermes said.
“I said two things to the guys today before the game: 'One, we've got to stay focused for 90 minutes, and the other piece is that we have to play every roll of the ball,'” he said. “We couldn't allow ourselves to slip – not literally, but mentally – and allow some ball to go through and hang up in the air. I thought it was great concentration by the guys.”
The wind was especially noticeable on set pieces, causing balls to drift and bend unexpectedly.
“It was tough when the ball got up in the air,” Nielsen said. “You just have to react and be ready for anything.”
Nielsen still managed to record his second straight clean sheet, with New England taking only three shots and putting none of those on frame. And although Sporting's own goalless streak reached 193 minutes, Vermes refused to fault his offense for the scoreline.
“We had a few chances,” he said. “But in this environment, it's a great point.”
“This was not a game to evaluate somebody on the technical side,” he said. “It was a game to evaluate people on the battle side, how much they would battle over the course of the 90 minutes, and that's what all the guys did. That part of it was very good.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.