KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Five minutes of stoppage time had flashed on the board, and the fourth minute was ticking away, when Matt Besler ran up to the right touchline and launched one of his trademark long throw-ins.
The ball sailed into Houston's penalty area, and bounced once off the pitch. The next thing it hit was the extended right arm of Houston midfielder Luis Garrido.
Besler and his Sporting Kansas City teammates shouted for a whistle, a decisive point toward the penalty spot, and a chance to grab all three points from a sloppy, chippy match against the club their fans love to loathe.
They got none of it from referee Jorge Gonzalez. Play went on, and Sporting had to settle for a 1-1 draw that left manager Peter Vermes incredulous.
“I was 60 yards away and I saw it clean,” Vermes said in his post-match news conference. “The referee was 10 yards away. I have no understanding of how you can’t make the call.”
Gonzalez's written explanation for the no-call, in response to a pool reporter's question, was that, “It was judged not to be deliberate.”
In response to a follow-up question, asking how that could be the case when Garrido's arm was extended, Gonzalez wrote: “The arm was judged to be in a natural playing position.”
But Besler, Sporting's captain, told reporters that Gonzalez gave him a different rationale for the no-call immediately after the play.
“He told me he judged it to hit (Garrido's) hip,” Besler said.
Replays of the incident’s aftermath showed the referee pointing several times to his own hip, an action which seemingly supports Besler's telling of the events, as SKC players made their claims for a hand ball call.
That wasn't the only controversial call Gonzalez made in the match, which also saw six total cautions and the straight-red ejection of Dynamo midfielder Nathan Sturgis in the 84th minute for a serious tackle on Sporting's Roger Espinoza.
Gonzalez’s first tough decision came shortly after Dom Dwyer headed a Benny Feilhaber free kick into the far corner to put Sporting up 1-0 in the sixth minute. Houston forward Will Bruin, who was behind the Sporting defense alone on goal, was taken down in the area by Kansas City 'keeper Tim Melia. Gonzalez initially pointed to the spot but then waved off the call after consultation with his linesman.
Replays showed that Gonzalez got the call right, and that Melia got his hand to the ball as Bruin tried to sidestep the oncoming ‘keeper.
Then, in the 45th minute, Dwyer and Houston ‘keeper Tyler Deric collided while challenging for a ball in the air. Dwyer, who went down under the challenge, got up and confronted Deric. Deric then pushed Dwyer, and the Englishman fell to the ground - though his reaction was delayed - which ignited a short confrontation between the two teams, after which Gonzalez issued yellow cards to both Dwyer and Deric.
As a result of the fracases, Dwyer will be suspended for caution accumulation when Sporting visit Toronto FC on Aug. 8, and the player said he was surprised to see yellow.
“I'm pretty sure I kept my hands down by my sides the whole time,” he told reporters. “I knew I had four yellows, so I didn't want to get another one, so I'm very frustrated that he gave me one for that.”
Vermes was far more direct in his criticism of how Gonzalez handled that situation.
“First off, I don’t know where the yellow card comes from,' Vermes said. “The guy pushes him down, and he gets a yellow. For what? I have no idea. Those are the things that are just extremely frustrating. Believe me, it’s not just for me but for the other team as well. I know that their staff is frustrated with the things that are going on in the game and it has a major impact on the entertainment value of the game.”
Almost lost in the controversy was Sporting's failure to secure all three points because they did what they always try not to do against the Dynamo: give up a set piece to Brad Davis in a dangerous position.
Davis' 79th-minute free kick from the right flank found Ricardo Clark in the area, and he rose above Dwyer to head home the equalizer.
“Is it troubling? It ticks me off. I hate giving up any set pieces in any game,” Vermes said. “But we scored a great one. I thought we were dangerous in and around the box many times. The reason why we get the handball is because we create another set piece up-field.”