"Salt! Salt here! Get your Salt here," Peter Vermes and his assistant Benny Feilhaber cried over the noise of the crowd, "Finest salt in all the land."
A passerby stopped, curiosity piqued, "Is this salt for free?"
"F- off," Feilhaber quipped, pushing the guy away from any potential customers, except nobody was buying their salt today.
Long time peddlers of salt, Vermes and Feilhaber cries fell on deaf ears. Their usual buyer, the notorious Ismail Elfath, was no longer buying it. In fact, nobody was.
Here stood two men with their salt, alone.
* * *
There once was a coach named Peter Vermes,
Who had so much salt it went past his knees.
So he went to the Press.
Said "The refs are a mess."
And now he'll be buried in fees.
* * *
"Do you remember that one time, way back when, when the referee made a bad call that didn't benefit us? Combine that with tonight, yeah, they've got it out for us." - Peter Vermes
Vermes must have a short memory, or a biased memory. Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders have always had tough games, both teams battling tooth and nail. If it wasn't a stoppage time winner for Seattle Sounders, or questionable refereeing gifting the game (and trophy) to Sporting, it was a 3-0 drubbing that embarrassed all Sounders fans. That's it, there's no inbetween. The games are close, the games are aggressive, and no matter what happens, one team ends up going home feeling like they were robbed.
That's life, that's sports. Having Vermes sit back at the end of the game and bemoan the goal scored by Nelson Valdez as being offside, while at the same time propping up his supposedly onside goal by his player Matt Besler (fun fact: he too was offside), that's the definition of rose-colored glasses. The SKC coach then further goes on to lament that Osvaldo Alonso should have seen a second yellow for his second half tackle against Feilhaber. It was a tackle where the Seattle midfielder may-or-may-not-have initiated contact with Feilhaber, who made damn sure he sold it as the most egregious foul ever committed. Except nobody bought it. Ismail Elfath saw it for what it was, a tackle on a crafty player trying to get another player a red card.
There's a few bits of irony associated with this game. This was the 9th time Elfath has been the center referee for a Sporting KC game. Before Thursday's game, SKC was 7-0-1 in those games, the most recent being a 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake where Vermes contends his team should have been awarded a penalty. Instead, Sporting KC lost their first match refereed by Elfath, and that would not stand for Peter Vermes.
Let us quickly use the way-back machine and go to last year: June 6, 2015. It was another hotly contested match between the two teams, a match that saw two controversies in the 2nd half. The first was a goal scored by former Seattle Sounders player Lamar Neagle, except this goal was wrongfully disallowed for a poor offsides call. A 1-0 lead for Seattle while on the road instead remained 0-0, until the 84th minute. Dom Dwyer, he of the 5th most fouls committed in MLS for 2016 (8th most fouls committed in 2015), initiated contact with Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei and was awarded a controversial penalty for his efforts. Two refereeing decisions directly determined the outcome of that game, a game that Sporting Kansas City won. That referee?
Albert Einstein Ismail Elfath.
Let us again us the way-back machine and to a few more years into the past: August 8, 2012. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final was controversially hosted by Sporting Kansas City after the blind bids to host were determined to be identical, which is unquatifiably bizarre considering there were non-monetary factors in play, and a flip of a coin settled that tie to take the ultimate game away from Seattle, the team who was seeking their unprecedented fourth consecutive championship.
That's just the build-up to the game. But the game itself? It was 0-0 in the 83rd minute when Sporting KC were awarded a controversial penalty that would allow them to take a late lead, a lead they would lose when Zach Scott scored a few minutes later. After a scoreless extra time and a head-scratching red card to the Sounders, the teams headed to penalties. After four attempts a piece, both teams had scored two penalties. 2-2 in PKs with one kick to go. SKC's Paulo Nagamura stepped up and had his shot save. All Seattle would have to do is score their final kick to win the championship. But no. Controversy struck again as Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was deemed to have a foot off his line before Nagamura's attempt. Retake that kick, which Nagamura did and promptly did. After that deflating encounter, Seattle's attempt missed and Sporting won their trophy.
But let's look at that game with broad strokes: Seattle, heading for their 4th consecutive US Open Cup trophy, had people complaining that they were buying the trophies by winning home-field advantage in the blind-bidding process. When the home game was awarded to SKC, with the reason given being that the bids were identical, red flags were raised. But Seattle had won the US Open Cup Final on the road before, they can do it again. Again, another hard fought match played out between these two teams, and after 81 minutes, it was 0-0.
Teal Bunbury sent in a cross back away from goal which struck Zach Scott across the midsection with a glancing blow. Referee Ricardo Salazar, the 4th official in Thursday's game, called a handball despite being behind Scott and not being able to see where the ball actually struck (video here). Even if the ball did strike Scott in the arm, it was an exceedingly soft penalty that would surely determine the result of a cup final. The Sounders ruined that narrative when they scored immediately after to send the game into extra time.
In penalty kicks, both goalies were consistently off their line preceding every shot, regardless of whether the shot was scored, saved, or missed. The issue is only one of those instances was called and rekicked, which coincidence would have it, was the one save that would have allowed the Sounders a kick to win. No, instead a foul-save was called, the rekick was score, and the ensuing Sounders kick was missed despite Jimmy Nielsen being off his line.
So, back to the present, Peter Vermes sits in his press conference and blames the referees for his loss with no sense of irony. He sits in his press conference and demands apologies from MLS and PRO, with no sense of irony. He sits in his press conference and he talks about how a Seattle player should have been thrown out of the game, should have seen yellow cards for egregious tackles that most assuredly occurred, with no sense of irony. When asked for an explanation as to why Benny Feilhaber saw a yellow card for attempting to attack referee Elfath, Vermes said, paraphrasing, "probably for dissent," with no sense of irony.
He's upset, I get it, and I would be too. Of all the 50/50 calls in this game, not all of them went his way. It's a bummer when someone else wins a game you feel you deserved to win, whether that feeling is justified or not.
I've vilified Vermes before, and I've justified my reasons behind it, but I want to laud him for his gameplan in this past game. It was perfect. Sporting Kansas City generally employs one of two major tactical plans. The first is cynical, the "if the opponent connects three passes together, knock them on the ground," style of play, a negative, slug-fest where SKC hopes to keep the game close and win off set-pieces. This is a tactic that is usually rolled out against teams that might be more technical than Sporting. The second style is a possession based approach that hopes to prevent the other team from having the ball while attempting to unlock opposing defenses. This tactic is used when Sporting feels they're the better team on the field.
Thursday's game saw a combination of both in what is potentially the first departure from the cynical tactics Sporting employs against Seattle. It was refreshing. For too long have teams used the tactic of knocking our players down in order to stop them. I dreaded this game because that tactic still works against Seattle.
I don't want to take anything away from Sporting Kansas City, because they played a great game. They could have easily won this game early if not for the heroics of Frei. When only two goals are scored, both offside, and one is awarded but the other isn't, it could have easily been SKC going home the happier side. Such is the fickle nature of playoffs. Instead of two posts sending you home it's referees. It sucks. As a Sounders fan, we've been there, countless times, sometimes it feels like that's the only way we lose.
But right when SKC starts to make me feel like the dark clouds are lifting over their organization, Vermes does Vermes things and Feilhaber does Feilhaber things. Two things I want to make clear: 1) I do not like Peter Vermes. I don't know anything about him as a person, but as a coach, good though he may be, I don't like his style; 2) I really like Benny Feilhaber as a person but I cannot stand him as a player. His off-field personality makes me want to be friends with him, but on the field he's the heel opposing fans loathe. It's hard for me to reconcile that, because I understand what it is Feilhaber is trying to accomplish. As a soccer player, I was much the same way, except he's better than me by many orders of magnitude. He's a player I would love to have on my team for the next season or two and is currently out of contract after failing to sign an extension.
All this being said, generally I have issues winning ugly or winning unjustly. I don't have those issues with this game. We won. Whether it was fair or square, it doesn't rightly matter. Against any other team, I'd probably have a large percentage of me that would regret winning in this manner, but not against Sporting Kansas City. Not after their in-game and post-game implosion.
Our season moves on. Sporting's doesn't. All the salt in the world can't change that.
Can you GIF the love tonight
I have a feeling this will be a close, grueling match.
One team's season ends tonight in the ultimate competition.
KC is really pressing early. It's tough to watch.
Here comes Feilhaber, fouling while asking for fouls.
Elfath has to be careful he doesn't lose control of this match.
Nuts, Besler scored. Oh wait, no he didn't.
Feilhaber is out for blood. Elfath blood!
I wonder what he's complaining about.
Seattle can push past this defense. They can overcome!
Did Valdez just score? Seriously?
I'm not crying! You're crying.
And just like that, Valdez's doubt was gone.
The irony that he was offside is magnificent.
Let us collect SKC tears for future consumption.
All in all, it was a good plan for SKC, they just didn't quite pull it off.
SKC gonna be in a rush to get out of town.
I bet the nearside AR is also wanting to avoid the limelight.
Now let us welcome FC Dallas into our homes. Yes. Come forth.