Sporting Kansas City (9-5-6) fought back from an early Bradley Wright-Phillips netter at New York Red Bulls (11-5-2) with markers by Johnny Russell and Roger Espinoza. But two spectacular long-distance strikes from substitute Marc Rzatkowski overcame Sporting’s overturning of the early lead as Kansas City’s mid-season winless streak hit four matches.
The two third-place sitters in their respective MLS conferences at the beginning of the evening met Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Sporting Kansas City, 3-1-1 in its last five visits, were looking to halt a three-match winless streak (0-2-1). The hosts were playing their second match under rookie Head Coach Chris Armas after their 1-0 loss to cross-town rivals New York City FC last weekend.
Sporting KC went into Saturday with a few injury concerns, thus center back Ike Opara was held out from last week’s hamstring injury suffered at the tail end of last week’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC. Unexpectedly, Captain Matt Besler was forced out of the starting lineup before the match due to back spasms, leaving first-year MLSer and Argentine Emiliano Amor and rookie Graham Smith manning center back for Kansas City against marquee Red Bulls forward Wright-Phillips. who has seven goals in eight appearances against Sporting KC across all competitions and is second in MLS with 11 goals on the season.
New York attacked the left side of Sporting’s defense often early, and in minute seven, Argentine playmaker Kaku, looking for his league-leading 11th assist, slipped a pass into an unmarked Wright-Phillips just off right of the half-circle at the top of Sporting’s box. The astute Englishman chipped over onrushing goalkeeper Tim Melia into the left corner of the net for an apparent early goal. However, Wright-Phillips’ 12th of the season was ruled offside. Yet in the ensuing moments, the play went to Video Review, wherein Kevin Stott deferred to VAR Matt Franz’s overturn of the call without taking a look. Thus, Kansas City had allowed the first goal in six matches straight in all competitions.
Within a minute, the match would be level. Off a cross from a Roger Espinoza, Gerso Fernandes, Jaylin Lindsey combination, right back Graham Zusi redirected the ball into the box where winger Johnny Russell opened his right foot from five yards out and placed the stinging ball quickly to the left of Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Luis Robles and into the net for his seventh of the season.
Minute thirteen saw center striker Daniel Salloi pick up a sloppy back pass from Tim Parker, but he was unable to convert the chance. Kansas City enjoyed much of the possession in the following minutes, carving out some half-chances, while New York’s more direct forays caused the guests concern, concern that was tempered as the match went on by the confident play of Sporting’s Amor and Smith at central defense.
After the intermission, the visitors would take the front foot from a rare source. Having a career year in assists, midfielder Espinoza received a mild back pass Zusi on the right side some 28 yards out with space. The Honduran wound up his left foot and struck a bullet that bulged the net above-and-to-the-left of a lunging Robles. The goal was Espinoza’s first on the season and only the sixth of his nine-year MLS career.
Kansas City’s Manager Peter Vermes inserted forward Kharlton Belmar for Gerso in the 61st minute, after Armas had put on midfielder/forward Derrick Etienne for midfielder Alex Muyl for New York two minutes earlier.
In the 67th minute, Melia’s pressure defused a New York threat as Wright-Phillips was in alone. New York midfielder Royer played a backheel by Lindsey on the right side past midfield to Tyler Adams whose diagonal ball near the top of the box found the danger man. Melia met Wright-Phillips in a big stance and forced a back pass that ultimately killed the chance.
Five minutes later, though, the home side would level off another ball from the Homegrown Adams on the right side of Sporting’s box. Adams found midfielder Marc Rzatkowski at the half-circle. The German sub, 10 minutes after coming on for Kaku, struck a left-footed steamroller into the bottom left of the net to give the home fans hope.
Melia would make a strong save in the 73rd, and more good news came for Kansas City soon. Though not a goal, Felipe Gutierrez’s entry into the match, his first appearance since April 20, for Yohan Croizet five minutes later ended weeks of waiting for the fluid Chilean difference-maker to return to the lineup after sports-hernia-like surgery.
Yet the smiles would soon end for Kansas City as Rzatkowski would strike again in the 79th minute. Red Bulls midfielder Sean Davis fed the midfielder on loan from Red Bull Salzburg in the central channel. The 28-year-old shot with his left boot and dented the upper 90 to the right of a desperate flying Melia, who got a hand on it, for his second of the night and of the season.
Kansas City would threaten into the three minutes of stoppage time, but the match would end in favor of the hosts and leave Sporting KC still one shy of its 100th all-time road win in the MLS regular season after dropping each of their last three away matches.
Sporting Kansas City moves on to a midweek U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal at Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, ahead of a break before their next MLS fixture when they host FC Dallas on Saturday, July 28. The Red Bulls will host the New England Revolution next Saturday in MLS play.
Editor: For your consumption, here are the two PK shouts. The first in the 34th minute when Gerso was taken down. The other in the 91st minute when Salloi went down. The first one seems definitive but there was no replay on the ESPN+ broadcast of the second (and no VAR stoppage for either one of them).