Kevin Ellis scored the game-winning goal Wednesday night at Sporting Park.
Sporting Kansas City fans won't like to hear it, but it's the truth: A blown call by the officiating squad played a big role in preserving the hometown team's 1-0 win over Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champion's League play.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber should have been ejected from the game and Cruz Azul awarded a penalty shot for a flagrant handball that kept a Cruz Azul shot from going into a wide-open net during a harried sequence in the second half of Wednesday night's game at Sporting Park. The obvious transgression, which went undetected by the referees and unmentioned in The Kansas City Star write-up of the game
, means Sporting KC heads to Mexico on Wednesday for a second match with Cruz Azul while holding a 1-0 lead in the aggregate series.
The handball came during a run of several minutes of play when Cruz Azul was furiously attacking Sporting Kansas City, which had a one-goal lead thanks to an early goal by local hero and emerging Sporting KC defender Kevin Ellis.
While Sporting KC dominated much of the first half, they struggled at times to keep Cruz Azul at back in the second half. True, the missed call on the Feilhaber handball was crucial, but so, too, was an alert play by defender Ike Opara. Cruz Azul's Mariano Pavone had Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg off the goal line and beat on a shot early in the second half, but Opara got to the goal just in time to flick away what would have been a certain equalizer for the Mexican club.
A screenshot of Feilhaber's handball, which wasn't called by the referees, that kept a Cruz Azul shot out of the net.
In all, it was a good, if not fortunate, result for Sporting KC in front of nearly 19,000 fans at a sold-out Sporting Park on a crisp March evening. Striker Claudio Bieler antagonized Crul Azul's defense all night, stopped from scoring only by solid goalkeeping by Jose Corona. Bieler, who looked comfortable in Sporting KC's offensive scheme last night, set up Ellis for the early and game-winning goal.
Ellis, an Oak Park High School graduate, notched his second career goal in the 17th minute of the game by eluding defender Gerardo Flores and smoking Corona with a strike at the near post.
Sporting KC plays FC Dallas on Saturday to open Major League Soccer regular-season play, and then they travel to Mexico to play Cruz Azul for the second game of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals series. The winner of the series is decided by which team has the most goals at the end of both games. For example, if Sporting KC and Cruz Azul play to a 1-1 tie in Wednesday's game, Sporting KC is the series winner because they will have a 2-1 score in the aggregate of both games. If Cruz Azul wins 2-0 on Wednesday, they will be the victors by a 2-1 aggregate score.