That was . . . something. As both a Sporting Kansas City fan and as a normal human being, I crave narrative. Perhaps there was narrative out on the pitch last night, but I haven't found it yet.
After a terrible first half and a somewhat improved second half, Sporting went into stoppage time still trailing the Philadelphia Union 2-1, but somehow we left with a 3-2 victory.
Lacking narrative, here are some bullet points.
1. This is why we go to the games.
We invest so much emotional energy into the teams we root for that it's easy to forget that this rooting thing is supposed to be fun. As for me, the rooting last night felt like a chore for much of the match, at least from the second Union goal until the end of regulation. That changed fast.
Those six minutes of added time were sheer magic. A few foolish souls had headed for the exits at the 85th minute, but the bulk of us remained. We stood and urged our team on with our voices for first the leveler and then the winner. When the final whistle blew, we jumped and yelled and hugged and high-fived. We didn't mind if we didn't know the person next to us, all that mattered is that he or she was wearing blue. That collective euphoria over the unexpected win is why we go to games, and you can't feel that good without the risk of feeling as bad as we would have felt had we dropped all the points to a terrible Philadelphia team at home.
2. Winning is better than losing or even drawing.
Just this season, Sporting has played a little better than they did last night in a losing effort, and they've played a lot better than they played last night in a tie. Nevertheless, last night's poor performance did the team more good in the standings than either of those superior efforts. In the final standings, three points are three points, however obtained.
And, full credit to the team: Sporting was good enough. They didn't quit. That wasn't a well played match, but it was something to build on.
3. We have a real keeper.
It may seem strange to laud Marin's performance after his howler on the first goal (which was more his fault than Jacob Peterson, the poor guy actually charged with the own goal), but every goalkeeper will make the occasional mistake. The encouraging aspect of Marin's performance last night was that he shook off his early error. Especially while down 2-1, he made save after save to keep the team in the match (and to cover the mistakes of his teammates).
Last year's team wasn't going to challenge for trophies even with a top drawer keeper, but once the floodgates opened last season you kind of knew that more was probably on the way. It looks like we have a guy between the pipes with the sort of short memory required to keep a team in a match even if he's made a mistake, and that will earn us more than just last night's three points over the course of the season.
4. I guess maybe the international break was tough?
I hate to say it, but our two players returning from international duty looked more than a little poor last night.
I love Roger Espinoza. He had his moments last night, but overall that was a very un-Rogerlike performance. I can't imagine what he was thinking with that late give-away at midfield, but Marin and the post saved him and the team. Full credit for the effort to recover and make the best of the defense that he could, but he still turned in his worst performance of the season.
De Jong has looked like an improbable upgrade over Seth Sinovic in earlier games this season, but last night the Canadian looked out of sorts in the defense and lost in the attack. Seth was an upgrade at left back when he was inserted at halftime, ostensibly to prevent de Jong from picking up a second yellow card. Seth made strides toward reclaiming his spot on the left side of the defense last night.
5. Dom Dwyer is a beast.
The one unmitigated positive about last night's match was the performance of Dom Dwyer. Yes, he's still on an island more than is good for the team, but the answer to that problem is better linkup play, not Dom dropping deeper.
The obvious accomplishment for Dom was to open his scoring account for the season last night, but bear in mind that he put the ball in the back of the net on two other occasions. One was correctly called back for an off-side violation, but the other was whistled off for a foul by Dom that seemed largely a phantom. Perhaps he's getting his scoring mojo on.
Dom's less obvious positives were his overall high work rate and particular effectiveness at killing the game off. Winning the long ball while up a goal in the final moments of stoppage time, and then securing a throw-in, was the sort of tireless but often unheralded work Dom has been putting in match after match. That kind of effort is why Peter Vermes will keeping writing Dom's number into the starting lineup whether he is scoring goals or not.
6. The midfield is unsettled.
I, like a lot of the Sporting fan base, would enjoy seeing Benny Feilhaber in a more advanced attacking role, but we just don't have another defensive midfield option remotely as talented as Benny.
Carrasco started the match in the defensive midfield position and played well enough, although the sharp-eyed observer may recall that he gave up the unnecessary corner kick that led to Marin's gaffe and Philadelphia's first goal. Mustivar came in for Carrasco and played well enough, although at that point we were throwing so many numbers forward that evaluating his performance isn't straightforward.
This team sure has played a lot better with Benny in the defensive midfield position, though. Benny didn't have a particularly good match by his standards last night, but we still missed his understanding of the game, calmness on the ball, and long diagonal balls from the defensive position deep in the midfield.
Maybe Carrasco or Mustivar or a player yet to be identified will eventually fill the defensive midfield role more than adequately, but for the moment Benny Feilhaber is the best option in that position by far. That also happens to be the most important position in Peter Vermes' system. The defensive midfielder is the guy who sets the tempo for the match and pulls the strings for the attack. Last night's match looked choppy because we didn't have a maestro in the most critical position for Sporting Kansas City. We need to answer the question as to who our defensive midfielder is. Whoever the answer may be, an answer to the defensive midfielder position will be needed if this team expects to challenge for hardware.
7. Speaking of the Answer . . .
It's always sad to see an athlete grow old before your eyes, especially a guy who seems as genuinely nice as Jacob Peterson. The Answer was always going to be a step down from the injured Graham Zusi, but Peterson looked old last night, especially in the first half. He adapted like the seasoned professional he is, and even made several positive contributions on both sides of the ball in the second half, but experience and guile cannot overcome an athlete's physical decline. Better teams than the Union would have exposed Peterson more thoroughly. The more Jacob Peterson is a team leader and a squad guy instead of a starter, the better this team is going to do.
Get well soon, Graham (and Bernardo, too).
There you have it. That wasn't a good performance, but it was good enough for three points. We'll need to improve before Real Salt Lake comes to town next weekend, but last night's game film will certainly help the team focus on improving their performance.
Me, I've already watched the condensed match, secure with the knowledge of the ultimate outcome. That was fun.