KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Montreal's Alessandro Nesta and Sporting Kansas City's Claudio Bieler went head to head, quite literally. Impact coach Marco Schallibaum lit into opposing goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, and then had some choice words for the match referees.
Tense? You bet.
It's getting to be that way any time the two teams meet.
Sanna Nyassi and Collen Warner scored early in the second half Saturday night, rallying the Impact for a testy 2-1 victory over Sporting KC that gave them first place in the Eastern Conference.
"It's a highly emotional game and we tried to manage that," said Impact assistant coach Mauro Biello, who took over in the second half after Schallibaum was dismissed from the game.
"You need to manage your emotions in different moments," Biello said, "and I think my team did a good job managing their emotions and coming out in the second half and scoring two goals. They transmitted their energy in the right places and we were able to get the win."
Claudio Bieler scored on a penalty kick in first-half stoppage time for Sporting KC, prompting protests from Montreal that ultimately got Schallibaum ejected. The Impact's coach also was sent away when the two teams met in March for throwing water at the referee.
This time, Schallibaum missed watching Nyassi score the equalizer in the 47th minute and Warner punching the go-ahead goal past Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 53rd minute.
The Impact (8-2-2) had to play a man down when Nesta was given a red card for head-butting Bieler later in the second half, but they still held on even the season series with Sporting KC (6-5-4).
"We didn't play well the last time we were here," Biello said, "but we had a good game plan and the players followed it well. In the end, we showed a lot of character to win this game."
Tempers that had been running hot the entire game threatened to spill over when it ended as the two teams met on the middle of the pitch. Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes got into a shouting match with several Impact players, and staff members from both sides had to keep the teams apart.
"Just interesting how it's two games in a row now they get red-carded here at our place," Vermes said. "For what? I have no idea. It's just interesting to me. I'm fine. I'm actually very fine."
Sporting KC dominated possession, but the Impact had the better scoring chances.
Their best in the first half came when Felipe Martins got loose in the 39th minute. Nielsen strayed too far from the goal and Martins sent a shot off the near post, and the ball deflected right back. Martins passed over to Marco Di Vaio, but his uncontested shot went wide left.
Sporting KC finally struck two minutes into stoppage time.
Nesta tugged on Bieler's jersey just outside of the penalty area, and may have actually pulled him a crucial step inside it. When Nesta yanked on Bieler once more, Sporting KC's leading scorer tumbled onto his rump, and referee Armando Villarreal awarded him a penalty kick.
Bieler poked it past Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins for his seventh goal of the season.
It certainly didn't sit well with Montreal.
When the half ended, Schallibaum walked all the way to midfield and ripped into the referees over the penalty. The Impact coach then had harsh words with Nielsen as the two headed from the field, and Nielsen had to be restrained by a staff member as he headed up the tunnel for the locker room.
"(Schallibaum) approached the referee at halftime and you're not allowed (to do that), so they gave him a red card," Biello said. "That's what they told us. I don't know further."
After the Impact pulled ahead, second-half substitute Benny Feilhaber nearly equalized for Sporting KC in the 66th minute. He sent a bicycle kick toward the net that Perkins deflected away.
Perkins also saved a shot by Paulo Nagamura in the 71st minute.
"The first five minutes and last five minutes of each half are very important," Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin said. "Honestly? We gave two goals away."
They proved to be pivotal.
Even though the Impact had to play a man down for the final 20 minutes once Nesta was given a red card, they scrapped together enough defensive stops to keep Sporting KC from tying the game.
"We showed a lot of character," Biello said. "It was a difficult week for us with the Canadian championship on Wednesday in Vancouver. We had to fly across the country and had players playing three games in a week, so great character that we showed today."