Given the teams that met at Gillette Stadium, a game that lacked scoring chances was less of a surprised than unfortunate confirmation. New England, a team that always possesses a conservative streak, has been offensively challenged all season, while Sporting Kansas City is not immune to down spells of its own. Through 74 minutes on Saturday, each sad had put exactly one shot on goal, with the rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal seemingly destined to end scoreless.
That’s when a small, perhaps trivial piece of history turned Saturday’s match. Aurélien Collin, owner of 32 career yellow cards without a dismissal in this three-plus year MLS career, was shown a straight red card by Alan Kelly after a sliding challenge on Diego Fagundez. Nineteen minutes later, a cross sent through the penalty area that was misplayed by Eric Kronberg led to Teal Bunbury’s game-winning goal, with Lee Nguyen’s late penalty conversion giving the Revolution a 2-0 win over the defending Major League Soccer champions.
Before Collin’s dismissal point, Bunbury’s 32nd try on Kronberg had been New England’s only shot on target. Sporting finally tested Bobby Shuttleworth just before the hour mark, with Alex Martínez’s shot toward the lower right hand corner pushed wide. It was a match blunted by two conservative approaches, allowing the Revolution to hold the champs at bay while Sporting closed in on a road result.
When Collin was sent off, that all changed, though Kelly’s decision will prove controversial. Immediately reaching from his back pocket, the official seemed to judge the Sporting defender had gone in studs up. Replays were less conclusive. For a player who has made an MLS career of riding the line between physical and excessive, Collin pressed his luck with the wrong official, the defender left pointing to the replay on Gillette’s scoreboard as he left the field.
Moments later, Benny Feilhaber had a golden chance to snatch full points for 10-man Sporting when a ball in from the right was knocked down behind New England’s collapsing defense. One touch beyond an oncoming defender have the Kansas City midfielder a near-post chance around six yards out. Instead of going across goal, however, Feilhaber tried to pick out the upper right hand corner. His shot went into the stands.
Come stoppage time, Collin’s absence paid off. On a ball send in from the right by Fagundez, Kronberg missed on an attempted punch, apparently thrown off as Jerry Bengston made a run in front of him. Following behind, Bunbury was able to finish into an open net, scoring his first Revolution goal against the team that traded him this winter.
Nguyen’s insurance — coming after a handball for which Oriol Rosell should have seen red — made for a deceiving final score, one that gives the appearance there was some difference in quality between the two teams. There wasn’t, something that should provide the Revolution some assurances after an inconsistent start.
As far as the final score is concerned, however, one mistake (be it by Collin or Kelly) gave New England full points, costing Sporting its place atop the Eastern Conference.