Sporting Kansas City was more or less cruising into the finish line. They had a 1-0 lead over Columbus in Ohio and were about five minutes from putting the Eastern Conference championship question to rest for 2012.
But a whole lot went wrong during five minutes of injury time.
First, Columbus’ Eddie Gaven sneaked a near post header past SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, leveling the teams at 1-1. That’s how it ended, and those two points lost by SKC give second-place Chicago a little dose of hope that perhaps the Eastern Conference crown remains in contention.
Minutes after Gaven’s goal, the engine of SKC’s midfield, Roger Espinoza, fell in a tangle with two Crew players near the Columbus goal.
Espinoza indicated immediately that he was in real distress, and then SKC medical staff immediately called for the substitution. Obviously, none of that is good news.
Graham Zusi has gotten a lot of attention this year for his passing and his overall contribution to Kansas City’s fine season. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, defender Matt Besler and forward Kei Kamara get their due, as well.
But the entire SKC system is predicated on relentless pressure all over the field, and Espinoza is the unquestioned best at it. (Which is why Wigan from the English Premier League made a late run at the Honduran international during last summer’s transfer window.
If he’s out – and that is just an “if” at this point, nothing more – SKC’s chances in the playoffs take a huge hit.