A penalty kick earned from a Gerso Fernandes’ penetration and a cool finish from Johnny Russell had resurrected Sporting Kansas City (9-4-6) after 62 minutes Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park. But giving up the first goal for the fifth straight game in all competitions and a scrappy visiting Toronto FC (4-10-4) side were too much to overcome for the hosts in a 2-2 draw.
Sporting Kansas City buzzed around TFC’s box early and often in the first 10 minutes. Chances and half-chances came to winger Johnny Russell, midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, and striker Diego Rubio, who started only his second match of the season, through swift side-to-side ball movement and incisive crosses. The home side seemed destined to grab the lead on Toronto who Sporting KC had gone 6-0-2 against in the last eight meetings.
However, played evened out over the next 15 minutes as the sides exchanged mild forays. Right back Graham Zusi got pelted a drive from 20 yards for Sporting that was tipped by Toronto netminder Alex Bono for a corner. In turn, Kansas City center back Ike Opara, responsible for stepping up on Toronto’s Italian star Sebastian Giovinco, was often kept busy by the diminutive striker who would end with three shots in the first half.
And it would be Giovinco who would play wide left for Justin Morrow in space in the 25th minute. Morrow threaded a rolling cross for Toronto co-leading scorer Jonathan Osorio who had eked out just enough separation from marker Kansas City captain Matt Besler in the center channel to knock the ball past goalkeeper Tim Melia for the lead. Osorio’s sixth goal on the campaign became the fifth game in a row in all competitions that Sporting had surrendered the first goal. Three of those led to losses, the other two saw Kansas City comeback for 3-2 wins.
Sporting Kansas City, on a two-match losing streak after going unbeaten in seven, played without two staples in their lineup as leading scorer Daniel Salloi and midfielder Roger Espinoza were suspended due to earning red cards in the 4-2 loss at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. Perhaps their absence was felt as attacks broke down around the box and the hosts were unable to sustain their early momentum.
Thus Toronto, winless in their last four and absent co-leading scorer Victor Vazquez, as well as vital hold-up man and goal scoring threat Jozy Altidore, took their lead into the break.
A moment of near magic took the breath of Sporting supporters in the 51st minute from a Zusi corner. Attacking midfielder Yohan Croizet, waited 20 yards out at the far-right middle of the box and took the flighted ball on a full volley. The bullet was on-line but steamed over the bar.
But Kansas City would draw level in a more conventional way. Penetrating off a Kuzain release right winger Gerso Fernandes drew a penalty and a yellow card from Toronto back Eriq Zavaleta’s late and awkward tackle in minute fifty-six. Midfield general Ilie Sanchez rolled the resulting spot kick past Bono and into the bottom left corner to level the match.
As calm as a finish as Ilie’s was, more cold blood in front of net would put Sporting KC in front. After left winger Johnny Russell and Croizet won the ball inside Toronto’s half, Russell dished quickly for Rubio. Running outside, Russell received a cross-body feed and slotted a simple left-footed shot near post past Bono in the 62nd minute. The go-ahead goal was Russell’s first in MLS since his April 20 hat trick against Vancouver Whitecaps and his sixth on the year.
Seven minutes on, though, Toronto, the defending MLS champs, struck back. Substitute Nicolas Hasler stripped Kuzain in Sporting’s end and played for Jordan Hamilton. The forward let loose a dipping drive with his left foot from 28 yards that tucked inside Melia’s near post to his right to draw the visitors level at 2-2.
Two in-game injuries would impact Sporting in the ensuing minutes as forward Khiry Shelton came on for Rubio in the 71st minute, only to be forced to leave 10 minutes later. Opara was forced off in the 73rd for Emiliano Amor. Shelton was immediately injured by a Michael Bradley challenge though he’d stay on for 10 more minutes working through the pain.
Croizet, left back Jaylin Lindsey, and Zusi would have chances in the last quarter hour for Sporting Kansas City, but neither would find pay dirt and the match ended with each side gaining a point.
The draw kept Sporting KC in second place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference, at least temporarily as third-place Los Angeles Football Club hosted Orlando City in a later match. Sporting will play next Saturday at New York Red Bulls in a cross-conference matchup, while Toronto FC will travel to Orlando City the same day.