Omar Bravo and SKC couldn't get it done Thursday night.
Sporting Kansas City began the LiveStrong Sporting Park era last night with a 0-0 tie with the Chicago Fire. It began as a festive evening with team president Robb Heineman taking the field and telling the 19,925 in attendance, "Welcome home." Lance Armstrong even made an appearance. There were fireworks and a jet flyover. It was swell. Until referee Michael Kennedy decided that he wanted to be the star of the show.
But before we embarrass him with a blown call that will haunt him for the rest of the season, let's look at some of the better and stranger parts of the evening.
MLS made this nifty time-lapse video of the stadium. (If you look carefully at the far-left side of the penalty area on the left-hand goal at 42 seconds, you can spy Kennedy's folly in hyper-fast time.)
In the 15th minute, it looked like Sporting midfielder Graham Zusi had made team history by driving in LSP's first goal. It looked sharp, the crowd went nuts, and then Sporting striker Omar Bravo was called for being a tad bit offside. It was crushing for a team that had scored two goals in the last five games heading into last night. Wouldn't it be super-cool if Bravo would have the chance to make amends for his mistake late in the game? Yeah, it would.
Then, in the 67th minute, things turned ugly for Sporting. Usually calm goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen charged out of the box to prevent a Chicago scoring chance, and he swatted the ball away with his hand while outside of the penalty area. He crumbled to the ground, waiting for the referee to administer some red-card justice. After the game, Nielson was devastated, saying he couldn't believe he got his first red card on such an important night. "Shit happens," he summarized. It sure does. Down to 10 men, it was difficult for Sporting to keep pressuring the Fire the rest of the way.
Minutes later, more amazing strangeness came to the pitch as a man in a cow suit sprinted down the sideline and onto the field, took a pass from a Sporting player and scored a pretty cool goal. He gets extra credit for celebrating like he was on the team, and extra shame for ruining a Sporting chance. Then he was tackled, cuffed and taken to Sporting KC's training facility to get some more practice before Sunday's game at FC Dallas.
Which brings us back to referee Michael Kennedy. In the 85th minute, striker Bravo was charging the net with a serious chance to put SKC ahead and make up for being offside earlier! It was going to be epic, until Chicago midfielder Bratislav Ristic leveled him. It was nasty, but the wise referee let play continue, while Bravo writhed on the ground.
In the locker room after the game, Bravo was still clearly in pain. In his post-game press conference, Sporting coach Peter Vermes got the niceties out of the way first, thanking fans and ownership for building the new stadium. Then, with MLS Commissioner Don Garber in the building, Vermes shredded Kennedy. "To miss the last play with Omar, when he was in the box -- 100 percent PK. And for the referee to miss the moment in an environment like this tonight, there's not a place in the world where it would have been missed like it is tonight."
So there was no redemption for Bravo. Just a lot of rage and a booming "bullshit" chant from what sounded like the entire stadium. Sporting is back on the road at Dallas this Sunday, then returns home June 17 against the San Jose Earthquakes.