KANSAS CITY — Ike Opara laid on the grass at Children’s Mercy Park Sunday night, arms outstretched and motionless. The match was over, and players and coaches were milling around midfield. Still, Opara lay frozen. He had scored Sporting Kansas City’s only goal, but it still hadn’t resulted in the win he wanted.
Instead, it was a 1-1 tie with Real Salt Lake that capped Kansas City’s night. But the tie was a disappointing result to the home team, which was hoping to make a push towards the top of the Western Conference with a victory.
“I know I’m going to be the one walking away disappointed, with the amount of chances we had, not getting three points,” said defender Matt Besler, whose brother Nick plays for Real Salt Lake.
Sporting’s solo goal came off a 52nd-minute set piece by Johnny Russell, who lined up to take a corner kick, then floated in a near-perfect ball with his left foot. On the other end was Opara, who got under the corner with his head and whipped it in goal, right past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s outstretched hand.
Out of Opara’s 15 goals in league play, four have come against Real Salt Lake.
“I’m sure a lot of it is some luck – right place, right time,” Opara said. “But I don’t know, it’s nothing I have against RSL, no vendetta or anything like that. It just seems to fall that way I guess.”
The equalizer came only after Real Salt Lake had established an early lead off a Corey Baird goal.
In the ninth minute, Jefferson Savarino slipped a through ball past a falling Opara, and Baird converted. His shot sailed into the opposite corner of the net from goalkeeper Tim Melia, and Real Salt Lake (13-11-7) jumped ahead early.
Sep 30, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; Youth soccer players practice outside of the stadium before the match between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The closest chance Sporting Kansas City (15-8-6) saw in the first half came off a near-perfect ball from Roger Espinoza. On the break, Espinoza lasered a pinpoint pass to Johnny Russell, sprinting towards goal. Russell’s shot bounced off Rimando’s leg, as he slid just in time to defend his goal.
Sporting finished the first half with nine shots, and only one of those on target.
Still, it was a performance that manager Peter Vermes was pleased with overall – especially the fact the team didn’t wilt after the early concession.
“We could have lost ourselves when we went down one-nil, maybe conceded another one and all those types of things, and we didn’t do that, so that was good,” Vermes said. “At the end of the day, you’ve still got to score and it’s about execution. But outside of that, we had the majority of he ball, we created the chances.”
With four matches remaining in the regular season, Sporting trails West-leading FC Dallas by just two points.
“Win by any means – don’t care if it’s 1-0, 4-3, 5-3, I don’t care,” Opara said. “We just need to win games and get ourselves in a good position going into the playoffs.”