If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, every day'd be Christmas, right?
There were no presents for the Fire at Sporting Park Sunday night, no freebies; Kansas City fought and scratched for 90 minutes, as did the Men in Red. It was seldom pretty; each team deployed itself to deny its opponent's any glimmers of joyous football, and each team's plan worked marvelously. In the end, Sporting got a goal out of very little from second-half sub Pablo Nagamura to pry all three points from Chicago's sweaty grasp, 1-0.
The game was well into its final stages when the decider came down. It was some 12 minutes after referee Jose Carlos Rivero waved off an apparent second yellow to KC defender Seth Sinovic in the 62nd; since that moment, the Fire had played with a palpable sense of a grievance denied, slashing at the silver-clad hosts in a seething fury.
Anger is a knife with no handle, though, as the Men in Red found in the 75th. The Chicago midfield took a crucial couple of steps too far forward on a presumptive clearance, and old friend Jalil Anibaba swung in a cross to the mixer that found Nagamura blasting forward from midfield. His header was placed perfectly to the back post, and Sean Johnson could only wave at the winner.
The seething turned to outright rage a couple of minutes later. David Accam, whose searing pace on the counter had been the defining aspect of Chicago's gameplan, pushed off against Anibaba in a battle for the ball, his hand finishing on the Nigerian's face. Anibaba's reaction was pure fantasia, but Rivero's red card was terribly real. Accam would sit out the last few seconds of this one, and the entirety of the next one, barring a miracle from the Disciplinary Committee. Denied their most electric outlet, down a man, the Fire could only sputter and fume until the final whistle came.
The story of the day, though, was Chicago's inability to solve Kansas City keeper Tim Melia. The former MLS pool keeper, called on to replace Chilean Luis Marin after last week's 4-4 draw in Houston, was outstanding when called on.
The Fire showed up determined to play perfectly direct football, lumping passes forward for Accam to blur onto, bypassing their outnumbered central midfielders. The result was a wobbly, unlovely contest that featured a fair few half-chances for each side. But the Fire lacked that threatening edge up front; Accam's liquid dashes too often ended with a centering pass to no one in particular while the rest of the team was still emerging from midfield.
Chicago (3-4-0) return home on May 9, hosting Real Salt Lake in the first half of a long-awaited doubleheader with Chicago Red Stars. Sporting KC (3-4-2) travel to the nation's capitol to face Eastern Conference front-runners DC United that evening.