KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Once again at Children’s Mercy Park, Jacob Peterson was The Answer.
This time, it was an answer that cost Peterson’s former team a chance to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Western Conference field.
Peterson’s stoppage-time goal enabled Atlanta United to salvage Sunday night’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City, where Peterson’s durability, versatility and engine made him a fan favorite for five years before his offseason departure as a free agent.
That relationship, he said, was why he didn’t celebrate after helping the expansion side grab a second straight injury-time draw.
“It was late in the game,” he told reporters outside the Atlanta locker room. “It was a moment that kind of fell to me. I think if I missed that, these guys in here would have given me a hard time.
“So it’s something that – you know, I have a lot of respect for this club, and I really enjoyed my time, here, and really, just out of respect for the club and the fans, it was appropriate not to celebrate.”
The goal came in Peterson’s first game back from a calf injury that had sidelined him since March 31.
“It was a very frustrating injury, a very frustrating time for me personally,” he said. “When you’re with a new team, it’s not something that you want to go through. But hopefully, I’ve turned the corner.”
Peterson’s big moment was anything but bittersweet for Sporting manager Peter Vermes, whose club extended their unbeaten run in league play to 21 matches but have drawn four of their last five home matches and six of eight overall.
“It’s not bittersweet, it’s freaking bitter,” Vermes said in his postmatch news conference. “We lost two points tonight. We had the game in hand. We gave away a ridiculous goal at the end and we didn’t close the game out. It’s simple, it’s not a good feeling.
“But I give them a lot of credit; they’re a good team. I think they play well, they’ve got an identity, their players fight 'til the end – and look, it’s simple, they wanted to score at the end. We weren’t up for the challenge.”
The split came after a physical match, marked by six cautions – five to the visiting Five Stripes – and a penalty kick that Benny Feilhaber converted for a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute. The contention carried over after the match, as Vermes and Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino exchanged heated words on the sideline.
Neither would discuss the conversation afterward, though Martino – who also said he disagreed with the decision to award the penalty – joked through a translator that “I said Kansas City was a very good team, and he said Atlanta was a very good team.”
Martino’s assessment of Atlanta’s play – compared with last week’s 1-1 draw against Orlando City SC – was no joke, after the league’s stingiest defense kept its highest-scoring offense corralled for nearly all the game, controlling the tempo and keeping pressure on Atlanta’s back line.
“They were completely different circumstances,” he said. “Last week, I thought we deserved to win, and tonight, we should have lost.”
Instead, because of Peterson, Atlanta extended their unbeaten streak to six matches, even without forward Josef Martinez (foot) and left back Greg Garza (separated shoulder) – both of whom should be back when Atlanta travel to D.C. United on Aug. 23, Martino said.
“A lot of motivation, a lot of will,” Martino said in describing Peterson’s contributions when he’s healthy. “Games like tonight, that’s what a team needs.”