Oct 6, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) battles for the ball during the first half against Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Amid a miserable downpour for most of the evening, Sporting Kansas City locked up its playoff spot Saturday thanks to an 83rd minute Johnny Russell goal. The equalizer only came after a wild night, interspersed with plenty of officiating drama.
Russell beat his defender one on one, found space to dribble through two more Galaxy players and buried his shot in the near corner.
That corner of the goal Russell found was nearly identical to the space Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit early in the first half.
Zlatan scored off a penalty kick in the 25th minute, setting off officiating questions early on. In the moments before the penalty call, SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia jumped off his line as Galaxy striker Ola Kamara came forward. But as Kamara jumped in the air, Melia came flying below his feet and Kamara went tumbling.
On replay, it was unclear how much, if any, contact there was between Kamara and the Sporting players around him. Still, officials awarded Los Angeles the penalty kick as boos rained down from the announced sellout Children’s Mercy crowd of 20,092.
The fourth official of the match, Sorin Stoica, told a pool reporter after the game that the penalty was actually awarded due to a tripping call on Matt Besler.
Regardless, Sporting manager Peter Vermes was unhappy with the officials’ handling of the situation.
“One-hundred percent terrible decision,” he said. “When you have a live game at the speed at which the game is being played, there is absolutely chances for making mistakes. But when you have a replay to look at, that tells you the incompetence of the people that are actually viewing it.”
The 1-0 Galaxy lead held for most of the match, despite Kansas City launching 12 first-half shots (three on goal). Los Angeles goalkeeper David Bingham had multiple saves within five minutes because Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell and Roger Espinoza all came within a couple feet of scoring the equalizer.
Los Angeles nearly doubled its lead during first-half stoppage time, but the goal was disallowed after officials determined players were offside.
Things quickly escalated as the second half began, with tempers flaring on both sides.
Sporting’s Diego Rubio tumbled to the ground after a Galaxy tackle that seemingly got more of Rubio’s body than the ball. No foul was called, despite Kansas City players screaming at the official. About three minutes later, the Galaxy’s Sheanon Williams went down after a tackle, and Rubio stood over him and yelled.
Finally, Russell found his space in the 83rd minute and pulled Kansas City even despite all the fireworks.
“I was actually looking for the pass and it just seemed to open up, so I tried to make something happen,” Russell said. “I found a bit of space and it opened up for me.”
That Russell goal was Kansas City’s only score, despite a whopping 34 shots (nine on target) throughout the match. Bingham finished with eight saves.
“Unbelievable mentality from our team,” Vermes said. “Post. Crossbar. Post. You name it, we had it. It was all over the place. The goalkeeper made a few really good saves, but we were there. … I can’t say one bad thing about our team because they did everything.
“Actually, they would have won the game one-nil. You don’t call the penalty. That’s not a penalty. Then, we’re all fine. And if you’d go and actually watch VAR, you’d see it.”