After spending less than 30 seconds watching a small television on the sideline of the Children’s Mercy Park field, referee Jorge Gonzalez changed the whole momentum of a game that had momentarily looked like it was leaning in favor of the away team.
Facing a New England Revolution front of three former Sporting Kansas City players — Krisztián Nemeth, Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury — Kansas City took an early deficit Saturday night when Bunbury attempted a volley in the fourth minute that deflected off defender Jimmy Medranda and looped over goalkeeper Tim Melia and into the back of the net.
But in what seemed an innocent moment of the game, when New England had a throw-in in the 11th minute, Kansas City right-back Graham Zusi went down clutching his face.
Unnoticed by the referee, he was alerted by the Virtual Assistant Referee to check the small monitor that sat in-line with the halfway line.
With a quick look at the play, Gonzalez ran over to Nemeth, who scored 11 goals in 28 appearances for Kansas City in 2015, made a large box signal with his hand (indicating the play was reviewed), then brandished a straight red to Nemeth.
The Hungarian international was deemed to have elbowed Zusi in the face, resulting in his immediate dismissal from the game.
“Krisztián and I were friends and teammates, no history whatsoever,” Zusi said on Nemeth’s time at Kansas City. “I think it was just a mistake by him, and I think he was a little bit too up for the moment. I think it was just a momentary lapse in judgement from him and no harsh feelings by any means.”
Sporting Kansas City has struggled on their September road trip, picking up just three points of a possible nine before their last road game against the Columbus Crew on Sunday. The team also recently signed 15-year-old Gianluca Busio and submitted a bid to host the 2026 World Cup at Arrowhead Stadium.
From there, Kansas City took control of the game, ending the half with 71.2 percent possession and a one goal advantage.
The tying goal came just five minutes after the red card, with forward Gerso Fernandes connecting on to a loose ball from New England goalkeeper Brad Knighton to poke home the ball from four yards out.
The second goal, scored right before halftime, started with the man who was involved in the red card: Zusi. Taking the ball down the middle of the pitch, the Kansas City veteran played the ball out wide to Gerso, who sent an inch-perfect low cross to the back post for teammate forward Diego Rubio to slide in and put the ball home for a 2-1 lead.
The late goal moments before the halftime whistle made Kansas City coach Peter Vermes’ halftime talk a lot different.
“The fact that we got the second goal, I think hurt them a lot psychologically,” Vermes said. “And then it was about us getting the third goal and not taking our foot off the gas pedal.”
Perhaps in early celebration of the victory, a fireworks display lit up the night sky just north of Children’s Mercy Park for latter stages of the second half.
Vermes’ men were already up 3-1 at the time and went on to win by that score following another close-range goal from Rubio. The team sat comfortably on the lead and were perhaps looking ahead to their U.S. Open Cup Final matchup against New York Red Bulls at Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday night.
Kansan sports columnist Arman Alhosseini argues the United States men's national team needs to allow its younger players to gain experience from its veterans, in order to have future World Cup success.
Rubio, Gerso and Medranda all left the field early after being replaced by substitutes to rest their legs for the Wednesday night fixture.
“The fact that we played here tonight on Saturday, then we play Wednesday, I think that there is no doubt we can handle that from a physical perspective,” Vermes said.
The fixture will be Kansas City’s first championship game since defeating the Philadelphia Union on penalties in the U.S. Open Cup Final in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 2015.
It will also be the first championship game to be played at Children’s Mercy Park since Kansas City won the MLS Cup in 2013.
The game is set to kick off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20 in front of a sold-out crowd.