KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City's manager is pleased with his club controlling their own destiny headed into their CONCACAF Champions League group stage finale. Peter Vermes isn't at all happy, though, that Sporting will be without star winger Graham Zusi for that match.
Zusi was issued his second yellow card of the tournament in Tuesday night's 3-0 home victory over Nicaraguan side Real Esteli, meaning he will be suspended for next month's match in Costa Rica against second-place Deportivo Saprissa.
“You know what’s sad is that Graham Zusi, if not the best, he’s one of the best players on the field in these games,” Vermes said in his postmatch news conference. “And it absolutely frustrates me to no end to think that he gets a yellow card. He’s gotten two now, there in Nicaragua and here. They come through on our guys and they don’t get yellows.
“It’s amazing to me the lack of respect he gets in CONCACAF, especially with the presence that he and Matt [Besler] have had with the national team. He gets fouled from behind, he keeps trying to play, so the referee doesn’t make the call. But he gives him a yellow card for stepping in on a guy diving. It’s not right, and that’s the kind of stuff that has to change.”
Zusi, who was given the card for a 64th-minute foul on Esteli's Elmer Mejia, was more measured in his response to the card – but also thought he had been hard done by Honduran referee Oscar Moncada.
“I thought it was rather soft,” Zusi told reporters. “It was my first foul of the game. I felt that there was a foul on myself right before that that should have been called, and I think I let him know that. And then I committed a foul right after that, and I think he thought I was being malicious about it. I don't know.
“For me, it's not a yellow card. Never is. But I can't comment too much on the refereeing.”
Sporting lead Saprissa seven points to four going into next month's finale, and will advance to the group stage with a win, a draw or even a one-goal loss. It will be hard to miss that match with so much at stake, Zusi said.
“It stinks,” he said. “As soon as it happened, I felt bad. I felt bad that I wouldn't be there with the guys. You wish you could take it back, but I go back to it probably never being a yellow in my eyes.”
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The caution was one of eight – five on Sporting – handed out by Moncada on Tuesday night.
“Going into the game, we talked about not trying to focus on the referee, but certainly at some point when you’re trying to manage the game, you do,” said Besler, who expressed his own onfield displeasure when he was issued a card in the 54th minute. “Personally, I was on a card. So it’s definitely in the back of your mind. You have to be smart about the plays you step into.
“And there at the end when we’re up 3-0, you’re just making sure guys don’t do anything stupid. You’re making sure that guys on yellows don’t commit more fouls, because you never know what can happen.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.