Sporting Kansas City dispatched Atlanta United 2-0 on Wednesday night. Sporting KC are certainly for real, but Atlanta are better. It’s harsh, but true.
In one of the most anticipated games of this young MLS season to date, the best of the Eastern Conference, Atlanta United, welcomed the best of the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City, on Wednesday night.
Indeed, the match lived up to its billing.
It was a largely pulsating affair, one bursting with chances, goals, controversies, fouls, and, of course, the quality that you would expect from two teams that are ruling their respective conferences.
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In the end, though, it was Sporting KC who came out on top, overcoming the Five Stripes 2-0 thanks to second-half goals from young, Hungarian striker Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes. It was a consummate, professional performance by Peter Vermes’ side, which is the minimum you expect from such an experienced team under the intelligent, aware, controlled coaching of Vermes. But it does not necessarily mean that they have established themselves as the cream of the MLS crop.
Before the match, most had expected Atlanta to be victorious. Tata Martino’s team had continued from last season in a wonderful, free-flowing, high-scoring style, adding the likes of Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe to one of the best, attacking duos in the league, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. And although it was KC who returned home with the three points in their back pocket, it is still Atlanta who are considered the better team. And rightly so.
This game was flipped on its head when Brad Guzan was sent off in the 33rd minute. The Atlanta goalkeeper raced out to try and defend a through-pass that Khiry Shelton, who was very impressive on the night, despite the fact that he is still searching for that elusive goal, was attempting to latch onto.
Guzan never looked like he was going to get there. And so it transpired, his legs swiping for the ball, but only catching the ankle of Shelton, felling the Sporting KC attacker just outside of the penalty area and forcing referee Mark Gieger to brandish the red card. Guzan trudged down the tunnel, knowing that he had likely cost his side the victory. But even with ten men, it still required a remarkable strike from Salloi to open the scoring, and then some outstanding goalkeeping by Tim Melia at the other end to keep the score at 1-0.
Were KC the better team? Yes. They deserved the win. But are they the better team? Well, no, probably not. It is possible to beat an opponent and still be worse than them. It is one of the most basic examples of the anomalies that a small sample size can produce. And this, for me, is one of those examples.
That is not to say that KC are not for real. They absolutely are and it would not surprise me if Vermes’s squad are major challengers when the postseason rolls around. But, for now, it is still Atlanta that are the better team, however backwards that may seem.