SAN JOSE, Calif. – Sporting Kansas City's fans had seen this scene play out before: Grab a lead, lose it, settle for a point. Then Kevin Ellis rewrote the script.
Coming on the heels of two previous matches in which Sporting coughed up a lead (or two) before settling for a draw, it was a massive result for the visitors, who hadn’t beaten the Quakes on the road since Aug. 16, 2000, a stretch of 18 MLS regular-season and playoff games.
“I’ve never won, personally, in San Jose,” Feilhaber said. “I don’t think I’ve ever even drawn here, so it was really, really great to have that finally happen. ... Having dropped points at home, it was essential that we were able to grab some on the road, and grabbing three is obviously huge in this race. It’s so tight right now.”
The win did give SKC (12-12-7, 43pts) “a little wiggle room,” as manager Peter Vermes put it, bumping them up past Portland (11-12-8, 41pts) – 3-1 losers at Houston on Saturday – and into fifth place. Seattle (10-13-5) sit seventh with 35 points and two matches in hand – heading into Sunday’s national TV game against the LA Galaxy – on Sporting and the Timbers.
It also helped ease Sporting's pain from letting Houston and LA come back for ties at Children’s Mercy Park earlier this month.
“The fact that we’d given up four points in our last two games, at home, we knew that this was a huge game for us,” Vermes said. “We knew that we had to do everything we could to get three points here, because the games are going away quickly ... This was a big game for us. We knew it. Getting the three points was ginormous.”
Time was rapidly running out on Sporting’s hopes of avoiding a third straight unsatisfying draw until Vermes inserted former Quakes defender Ike Opara in the 76th minute. Opara became the fulcrum of a five-man back line but also was a critical weapon offensively. He drew the attention of two men on Sporting’s first and only corner kick, affording Ellis an opportunity to overpower San Jose left back Shaun Francis.
“I can honestly say that he meant to do that,” Feilhaber said of Ellis, who grew up playing forward for SKC’s academy program. “I know Ike was my main target and he made a good run, got a lot of the defenders towards him. I think Kevin was able to fight off his man and he just tried to ... take the opportunity and put any kind of body on it.”
From there, it was up to Opara, Ellis and the rest of SKC’s defense to see the game out, stifling the Quakes’ final flurries of activity.
“If we didn’t have the extra guy there, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would have gotten a goal,” Vermes said. “I think Ike really shut that game down.”