CHESTER, Pa. — Facing the end of an absolutely grueling stretch of matches, Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes knew his team would have an uphill battle on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union.
What he didn’t expect is for his exhausted club to go down to nine men — a turn of events in a disappointing 2-0 setback at Talen Energy Stadium that extended Sporting's MLS road winless streak to 12 games.
“For me, tonight’s game was decided by the referee,” a heated Vermes said in his postgame press conference. “It’s pretty simple.”
Vermes was upset with a what he deemed a “horrible missed call,” when Union striker Fabian Herbers raised his leg to win a ball against left back Jimmy Medranda, which led to Medranda chasing back and getting called for the first of his two yellow cards in the 20th minute.
And he thought the second red card — shown to midfielder Roger Espinoza for an apparent elbow to Roland Alberg’s chest in the 87th minute — was “absolutely ridiculous,” leading to a two-man advantage that the Union capitalized on with a game-clinching, stoppage-time goal.
When asked how he’d replace Espinoza, Vermes didn’t even want to entertain the thought.
“I’m going to appeal the second one -- easy,” Vermes said. “And I’ll tell you right now, we’ll win. If we don’t win, then something’s wrong. Big time. There’s no chance. The guy gets an arm to his chest? I don’t know what game this is, but it’s a man’s game and there’s going to be contact. That’s ridiculous.”
SKC midfielder Benny Feilhaber agreed with his coach, calling the straight red on Espinoza “a soft call.”
“Roger looks like he’s trying to protect the ball and put his body in the way and obviously shield him with his arm,” Feilhaber said. “I don’t think there’s any sort of malice or overexertion of power. I think it’s a silly card to give at that point in the game.
“Having said that, they outplayed us and probably deserved the three points.”
Despite his frustration over the calls, Vermes was mostly pleased with how his tired team performed after logging, by his estimation, over 16,000 miles during a five-games-in-15-days stretch that included a CONCACAF Champions League trip to Vancouver just this past Tuesday.
It wasn’t until they went down a man that Sporting fell behind, and it wasn’t until they went down two men that they gave up a second goal. They even nearly scored against the run of play, forcing Andre Blake into a big save on Dom Dwyer in stoppage time.
“After about five or ten minutes of being down a man, I could tell we were getting gassed big time,” Vermes said. “But when we went down two men, I tell you we had some pretty good fight at the end. We almost scored one, which is pretty good. It was good fight for us at the end. But unfortunately, I think this game was changed by the calls.”