West Beats East in a Game Changed by Penalty

Atlanta, GA – This week Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes signed a contract extension that will make him the longest tenured coach in MLS. And ATL UTD 2 goalkeeper Paul Christensen signed a four-day contract with Atlanta United as an Extreme Hardship call-up due to injuries to usual backups Alec Kann and Mitch Hildebrandt.

Sporting KC traveled to Atlanta for a midweek matchup pitting the top team in the Western Conference against the top team in the Eastern Conference. Little did Christensen know, he would make his first-team debut in this environment, substituting for regular starter and US international Brad Guzan. Atlanta selected Christensen with the 70th overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.

In the 34th minute, Guzan attempted a sweeping kick save on Khiry Shelton who broke one-on-one on goal. Guzan missed the ball and swept Shelton’s legs, resulting in a red card ejection. Tito Villalba substituted off in exchange for bringing on Christensen in goal.

Christensen described his entrance, “you don’t really have time to be nervous because you’re already thinking about the free kick.”

He did not have family in attendance but said his “family’s watching back home.” The free kick went high and the half ended 0-0.

When asked if he got a toe on the pass that led to the red card, Captain Michael Parkhurst explained “No I didn’t…I’m not sure how I missed it; I thought I had it. I think that’s why Brad froze—he thought I had it as well, but it skipped on the turf really quick and I just missed it.”

The red card changed the game drastically from what Atlanta fans perceived should have been a 1-0 halftime lead.

In the 6th minute, Josef Martinez scored a goal for United that referee Mark Geiger reversed for offside after a brief video review.

On the shot, Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco played a through ball toward Tito Villalba when KC defender Jimmy Medranda deflected the pass to Josef Martinez in an offside position (to receive a direct pass from Barco).

In a post-match interview, Geiger stated he ruled Medranda’s touch to be an unintentional deflection rather than an intentional playing of the ball, which resulted in Martinez being ruled offside.

Because Medranda extended his leg in a clear effort to derail the pass, the call remains controversial including across Major League Soccer and its analysts.

To Atlanta fans the call magnified over the course of the game as fans booed repeated calls for Sporting KC and repeated perceived no-calls for Atlanta.

The teams played an even game early in the second half, with both teams in the final third resulting in limited true chances. But ultimately the lost man hurt United.

The impasse broke in the 67th minute when Kansas City’s Dániel Sallói curled in a shot from distance, bending it around a diving Paul Christensen and into the back of the net. Kansas City went up 1-0.

To Atlanta’s credit, the team searched hard for a goal throughout the second half. The dynamic offense remained dangerous and generated multiple shots, though Sporting KC’s defense remained disciplined. Tim Melia made several quality saves and deserved to be Sporting Kansas City’s man of the match.

Kevin Kratz substituted on for Atlanta in the 75th minute in place of Jeff Larentowicz. Calling upon his magic from the last home win against Montreal, Kratz took two free kicks from the top of the 18-yard box after the 80th minute. The second was nearly an exact replica of the first—both bent over the wall and onto frame as Melia made diving saves to his right.

Sporting KC finally put the match away with a late break by Gerso Fernandes in the 89th minute. Fernandes dribbled around Christensen in the box and placed a rolling shot toward goal. An attempted save by a racing Sal Zizzo became emblematic of United’s night as the great effort couldn’t stop the ball from rolling meekly into the goal. The score ended Kansas City 2-0 Atlanta.

Up next, Atlanta must recover tired legs to travel to Orlando this Sunday May 13th to take on one of the hottest teams in MLS on Mother’s Day. Sporting KC play next on Sunday May 20th at Minnesota United, where they will try to stay undefeated to start coach Peter Vermes’ new contract extension.