KANSAS CITY – A Tim Melia save of a penalty kick was the difference in a 0-0 draw between Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew Sunday. But in a match that lacked offensive fireworks, the officiating team created most of the excitement in front of an announced 20,697 at Children’s Mercy Park.
The PK call was the first of several high-profile decisions made by the referees. In the 41st minute, Melia closed in on an attacking Gyasi Zardes, sliding into his legs in the process.
The officials instantly called for a PK, a decision Melia questioned.
“I definitely made contact with Zardes, but it’s a situation I keep finding myself in,” Melia said. “I’m stepping to the ball, stepping to the striker, momentum is carrying from both directions. There’s no clear and obvious effort on my part to tackle the player or to make a play on the individual player, so I think it’s a soft penalty.”
Still, the PK ended up being a moot point after Melia got his fingertips on Zardes’ attempt, sending the ball trickling down the end line safely out of bounds.
Melia’s erasure of Zardes’ PK attempt made for the difference in a match featuring stifled shots and equally oppressive heat. At kickoff, the temperature was a blistering 94 degrees.
But the story of the 0-0 match wasn’t the scoring chances, or lack thereof. It was an interaction near midfield, and the officials’ response (or lack thereof) to it.
By the second half, Columbus was already playing a man down, after a late first-half red card sent Frederico Higuain off. Higuain’s tackle of Roger Espinoza, which sent the latter sprawling, was deemed worthy of a straight red.
The 59th minute, though, saw a more egregious violation from the Crew that went unpunished. Near the midfield circle, Cristian Martinez appeared to rear back and slap Seth Sinovic in the face. On a night where VAR had already been used to hand out a red card, the officials neglected to take a second look at the play. Sinovic was subbed out immediately following the interaction.
“I think they were breaking out a little bit, and he (Martinez) was running out, and I was trying to kind of step in front of his run, and I felt something hit my face and kind of went down,” Sinovic said. “He definitely connected. I don’t know how else to say it.”
Sinovic also said that from his understanding, the official said the crew did not have video of the incident.
A pool reporter after the game was not allowed to ask questions about the incident, and was told that questions about VAR were off limits.
“Not at all,” Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said, when asked if he had received an explanation for why the play wasn’t reviewed.
When asked if sufficient explanations were being given throughout the season for when officials choose to go to VAR, Vermes settled with a simple “no.”
“It’s new, right? So it’s going to have growing pains,” Melia said. “The whole scheme of VAR – it hasn’t been correct 100 percent of the time and I’m not expecting it to be. But I think it’s a necessity in the league. The game moves too fast. We can’t put everything on human error, on one individual because he can’t see everything. I think he needs the help, and the technology is out there, and we need to use it. But we just need to understand how to utilize it correctly, and when it should be used and when it shouldn’t.”
Despite playing a man up for the entire second half, and despite the excitement of Melia’s PK save, Sporting could not capitalize. The team limped to a 0-0 finish, a result that had the Crew celebrating in a huddle on the field afterwards.
“The lack of urgency on our part was a disappointment from my perspective,” Vermes said. “We have an obligation, I think every time we step inside the white lines, to play a certain way. But at times what’s gonna happen is you’re gonna be off. Maybe you’re gonna miss a pass, maybe you’re gonna amiss a shot … Sometimes you don’t have your A game that day. … The one thing you always need to bring is your effort. Heat’s no excuse to me. … I’ll tell you this, if it’s the heat, we’ll find out what heat really is.”