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Rubio and Gerso tally in rally as Sporting Kansas City stay in MLS West title hunt

Guests New England Revolution jump on top before going down a man

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A Diego Rubio brace, following a match tying goal by Gerso, kept Sporting Kansas City (11-6-11) in the thick of the race for MLS West crown and increased their home unbeaten streak in the MLS regular season to 23 matches in a 3-1 victory over the visiting New England Revolution Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Sporting Kansas City, in need of points in a tight race for the MLS playoffs and home-field advantage in the Western Conference, hosted the New England Revolution, in need of points to stay in the playoff race in the East. Coincidentally, Sporting came in on a 22-game home unbeaten streak and New England had yet to win away on the season; their last road defeat a 7-0 shellacking courtesy of Atlanta United Wednesday evening in which midfielder Xavier Kouassi and back Antonio Delamea earned red card suspensions that continue through tonight’s match.

Further linking the teams was New England’s stable of former Sporting Kansas City players in forwards Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, and Krisztian Nemeth, all who were in the Revolution starting eleven and all aided by playmaker Lee Nguyen whose 9 goals and 14 assists were the third best combined total in MLS.

The familiarity and playoff-like pressure would spur some early fireworks.

And it was Bunbury who would lead the charge against his former mates. Kamara drove in from the right side in the 4th minute but was intercepted by Sporting KC’s defense until the ball was cleared softly by center back Ike Opara. Bunbury latched onto the loose ball, launching a right-footed half-volley that deflected off Sporting midfielder Jimmy Medranda, in the lineup for stalwart Roger Espinoza (suspended due to caution accumulation) and over goalkeeper Tim Melia. It was Bunbury’s 7th goal in his last 11 games, and it gave the points-starved Revolution hope.

However, the early drama wasn’t over as Sporting KC’s hopes rose and the Revolution’s fell when Nemeth elbowed Graham Zusi in the face, and, after video review, was ejected from the match by referee Jorge Gonzalez in the 12

Sporting would draw even just four minutes on. Zusi, fed in off a give-and-go with playmaker Benny Feilhaber deep on the left of the Revolution goal, sent in a low steaming cross that goalkeeper Brad Knighton knocked away by the near post. With Knighton prone, Designated player Gerso placed the ball into the back of the net off his left boot for his eighth marker of the season to even the match.

Deep into the half, Sporting had dominated possession (71.2% for the half) while creating varied half-chances – including a rare foray into the attacking box by center back Matt Besler – and keeping Nguyen, Kamara, and Bunbury at bay.

The chances came to fruition in the 45 when Zusi – in one of his many rushes of the evening – bolted to just outside the top right of the New England area where he laid the ball off to Gerso whose low ball across the goalmouth was met by striker Diego Rubio at the far-left post. Rubio’s right foot-first slide netted him his third goal of the season and Sporting Kansas City a joyful lead, and perhaps a dagger into the minds of the guests who now totaled three red cards and nine goals allowed in their last 135 minutes of play.

Early in the second half, Sporting continued to endeavor to kill off any New England hope with a few strong chances. The dagger to the Revolution heart came in the 58th minute. Medranda floated a cross-box ball from the right side intended for a far-post running left back Seth Sinovic. But a New England defender knocked the ball back to Feilhaber at the top left of the box. His half-volley driven into the turn bounded off the New England right post and across the goal to Rubio who took a settling touch before driving the ball into the upper right side of the net. Rubio exited the match six minutes later to a loud roar from the sold-out crowd as Cristian Lobato took his place.

In the 79th minute, the other Sporting KC goal scorer, Gerso, left the match, allowing recently-signed Kevin Oliveira to make his first-team debut after being signed Friday from Sporting’s Swope Park Rangers.

Taking advantage of an extra-man and using some crisp ball movement and numbers in attack, Sporting Kansas City gained a valuable three points to temporarily, at least, move into a tie for second place in the conference as Portland fell behind in their match and Vancouver had tied earlier in the day. But the three points kept them in strong position for the season with two home MLS beckoning soon.

Sporting KC will be back at it tomorrow to begin recovery and preparation to host the U.S. Open Cup Final against the New York Red Bulls Wednesday evening at 8pm CT on ESPN2, while New England will host league-leading Toronto FC next Saturday.