Despite again dominating the possession battle and setting a new all-time high in shots with 28, Sporting Kansas City needed a dramatic equalizer from C.J. Sapong to rescue a draw with the Houston Dynamo in front of 19,877 fans at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
Sapong's header in the third minute of stoppage time canceled out a strike by Houston captain Brad Davis just short of the hour mark.
Houston coach Tim Hanley, who manned the sideline in the absence of Dominic Kinnear, said the late goal made the game feel like a loss. In the postgame press conference I attended, Hanley said:
"It feels like a loss when it isn’t, because it was at the very end. I think for Sporting KC it probably feels like a win. I think that they pushed so hard and they are such a good team at home. They are always knocking on the door, but our guys did well."
Sporting KC captain Jimmy Nielsen didn't see it that way. In the locker room after the game, Nielsen said:
"If [Houston] had left here with all three points, they should have been arrested for robbery. We were lucky to score at the time we did—I will admit that. But this does not feel like a victory for us. I feel like it’s the same story every time we play at home. You have to respect the opponent’s playing style, and we’ve got to do a better job finding ways to create open chances."
Sporting KC had the first dangerous chance of the game in the fifth minute. Sapong chased a ball down on the right wing that Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall had come out of his box to play.
Sapong laid the ball back for Graham Zusi, who tried to chip the ball into the net, but it was cleared off the line by defender Bobby Boswell.
Houston's first chance came in the 13th minute on a free kick from Davis. From just outside the penalty area on the right wing, Davis got the ball over the wall, but hit the side netting just to the right of the near post.
Hall came up with a big save on Sapong in the 33rd minute. Matt Besler put a cross in from the right and Sapong got his head on it, but Hall got a hand to it to keep the game scoreless.
Nine minutes later, Houston had a chance of its own snuffed out. Corey Ashe put a through ball in to Will Bruin, but Nielsen made a sliding stop from point blank range. The chance was made more dangerous by the presence of Macoumba Kandji in the penalty area.
Four minutes after the break, Sporting KC's Julio Cesar whiffed on a clearance attempt and allowed Bruin in on goal. Bruin's shot was easily saved by Nielsen.
Nine minutes later, Houston drew first blood. Midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia appeared to be trapped near the top of the penalty area, but managed to get a pass off to Davis. Davis used his first touch to put the ball on his left foot and put the ball out of Nielsen's reach going back the way he'd come.
The goal was Davis's seventh of the season, and Boniek Garcia was credited with his sixth assist of 2012.
After the game, Nielsen said the goal wouldn't keep him up at night. Nielsen said, "It was a good strike and it bounced on the wet grass, which gave it more speed. Of course I’d like to save it, but that one won’t keep me awake. Give him credit."
In the 62nd minute, Ashe appeared to get into a scrap with Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara. Ashe, who stands 5'7", was at a considerable disadvantage against the 6'3" Kamara, but both players were separated by teammates. No cards were issued to either player.
The first booking of the game came in the 86th minute, a bit of a surprise considering Baldomero Toledo was the match's referee. Houston's Luiz Camargo was given a yellow card for delaying a restart.
In the postgame press conference, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said that's something referees could do more of. Vermes said:
"I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining but every time a team comes in here they are just settled with dropping off and sitting in, trying to slow the game down. I understand that’s a tactic, I get it, but where the referees could come in, they cold help push the game along, there’s too many things that are getting overlooked and players are getting away with too much on the field."
Shortly before the start of second-half stoppage time, Sporting KC played the ball into the Houston penalty area where it appeared a Houston player handled the ball before it went out of play.
Several players appealed for a call, but Toledo appeared to call the handball on Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin. Some players, including Kamara, were lucky they didn't get booked for dissent, considering their reactions to the decision.
The stage was then set for more late-game drama that fans of Sporting KC have almost come to expect. Defender Matt Besler sent in a long ball from his own half of the field and found Sapong at the top of the penalty area.
Sapong's floating header came down for Zusi, who settled the ball and put a cross in to the back post. Sapong was waiting for the cross and headed it into the back of the net.
The goal was Sapong's career-high sixth of the season, but his first in league play since June 16, a span of 12 matches. Zusi was credited with his 13th assist, tied for most in MLS with Seattle's Mauro Rosales.
The goal also marked the first time Sporting KC has not won a match in which Sapong was on the score sheet. Including playoffs, Sporting KC is now 11-0-1 when Sapong finds the net.
Next up for Sporting KC is a road game against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. The game will be televised on KSMO-TV with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.