Sporting Kansas City has not had much trouble scoring all season. But Saturday night while hosting Colorado Rapids, all weapons were firing. The front three, spearheaded by returning Mexico International Alan Pulido, worked in combination often and received help from a little seen source. Two more got into the act before it was all over. The energetic 4-0 win put Sporting atop MLS’s Western Conference for the first time since September 14.
Sporting Kansas City (3-1-1 in their last five) sat at third in the West, just two points behind Portland Timbers – who has played one more match – and Seattle Sounders at the start of the night.
With a week since their last match due to a COVID-related cancellation of the scheduled Wednesday match at Colorado, Sporting was able to get rest and have all available for the First XI. Manager Peter Vermes chose Amadou Dia, Winston Reid, Roberto Puncec, and Jaylin Lindsey across the back. In the midfield, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, and Gadi Kinda got the call. The three-pronged front line featured Gianluca Busio, Alan Pulido (returning from a stint with the Mexico’s National Team), and Johnny Russell. However, Reid pulled up with groin tightness during warmups, paving the way for Andreu Fontas to get the start.
Sporting’s first strong chance came off a buildup through the middle in the 6th minute. Russell laced an on-frame, curling shot to the far post from the right. But a Rapid defender blocked the chance.
Ten minutes later, Pulido danced deep into and across Colorado’s box to get off a left-footed shot from seven yards that went right to Rapid goalkeeper William Yarbrough.
The fast-paced match featured swift counters from the visitors and more penetrative, direct play in the buildup for Sporting. Both wore an element of sloppiness that only aided the attacking action.
Russell attacked with results again in the 23rd minute. Taken down by Collen Warner at the top right of the Rapids’ box, the Scot stepped up to take the free-kick some 20 yards out with Pulido flanking him. Russell took it himself, blasting a shot that Yarbrough could only block away. Espinoza tried to follow but miss hit. Shortly after, Warner exited for Nicolas Mezquida.
Pulido, keen for more action, received from Ilie ten minutes later and punched a well-struck, knuckling drive at Yarbrough. Only a sprawl and a block kept Kansas City from taking the lead.
The second stanza began with a rough edge as Busio snuck through the Rapid defense three minutes in, receiving a strong knock just as he shot from 19 yards. Pulido took the free kick, hitting well to force Yarbrough fully to his right. Espinoza followed a bit after with a low sizzler that put Yarbrough quickly to the ground for the save.
The 54th minute saw Sporting swarming around the Rapids’ box. The ball leaked out to Espinoza who touched quickly for Pulido on the left eight yards out. In true #9 fashion, Pulido touched backwards, spun, and hit a low shot across the grain, fooling Yarbrough, and going inside his right post. The goal was Pulido’s sixth on the season after his Sporting KC record transfer from C.D. Guadalajara.
The enterprising trio of Russell, Pulido, and Busio were released in Colorado’s end in the 63rd minute. Russell chipped divinely to put Pulido in open space on the right. The Mexican International sped towards goal, getting off a shot near post. Russell and Busio then worked a skillful combination that ended with a blocked shot.
But four minutes later, a new name would enter the attack. On the doorstep after a Sporting free kick was headed square by a Colorado defender, Fontas touched past Yarbrough to double the lead. Sporting’s attack was reminiscent of it’s early season dominance.
Vermes made his first substitution, spelling Busio for Khiry Shelton in the 70th minute. Later, Felipe Hernandez and Erik Hurtado would enter Espinoza and Pulido respectively.
But Kansas City was not done. Gadi Kinda weaved open space in the Rapids’ box in the 89th minute before seeing his shot blocked. The Israel native persevered, taking a second stab at the ball to place it in the net for a 3-0 score.
Kinda and Russell then got a well-deserved break as Cameron Duke and Gerso Fernandes came on.
Gerso, he of the attacking bend, could not stay away from the fun. Sent in by Hurtado, the winger beat one and then went over Yarbrough with a skillful lift for the fourth of the night.
Sporting will travel to Cincinnati for a midweek battle at Nippert Stadium.