Sporting Kansas City opened up their 2020 home stand in front of a sold out crowd of 21,188 against the Houston Dynamo, and after the fantastic goal-scoring debuts of new signings Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda, everyone in attendance was hoping for more fireworks tonight, and not just from the new pyrotechnics at Children’s Mercy Park.
It didn’t take long for Sporting KC to live up to the hype.
In the 16th minute new midfielder Gadi Kinda received the ball from Graham Zusi with tons of space in the midfield. Kinda’s fancy footwork drove the ball forward to the top of the box where he laid the ball off for Khiry Shelton. The slightly off-balance winger did just enough to touch the ball toward new DP No. 9 Alan Pulido, who put the ball with the perfect touch into the far right corner of the net past Marko Maric for his second goal of the year, the first of his MLS career at Children’s Mercy Park.
It wasn’t an easy finish, either, as Pulido was running away from goal and had to turn his hips enough to actually put the ball on frame instead of blasting it wide of the net. Goals like this are exactly why Sporting KC smashed their transfer record for the former Liga MX Golden Boot winner.
Sporting KC’s midfield continued to dominate the Dynamo, controlling the pace of the game through the middle of the field. Ten minutes after the first goal, Alan Pulido once again found himself in the middle of the action as forced a deflection off a Johnny Russell set piece to midfielder Roger Espinoza. The 33-year-old Honduran got just enough of a touch on the ball with his left foot to put the ball into the back of the net to double SKC’s lead in the 26th minute.
Twelve minutes later in the 38th minute, Johnny Russell nearly blew the game wide open with what would have been an instant Goal of the Year nominee. Khiry Shelton found himself wide open chasing a ball down the middle of the field, which forced Houston keeper Marko Maric way out of his box in an attempt to clear the ball. Maric made a mess of the clearance, and only kicked the ball a few yards away to the Scottish winger. Russell launched the ball toward an open net from nearly 40 yards away, missing by less than two feet in what would have been an instant classic goal.
Houston came out in the second half showing many more signs of life than they did in the first half. Both Memo Rodrigues and Tommy McNamara had chances to put Houston on the board within the first ten minutes of the second half, but neither could convert the chances.
Sporting had their chances, too, with both Gadi Kinda and Johnny Russell having open shots on goal from inside the 18-yard-box. Kinda could only put the shot right at Maric, though, while Russell sent the ball well over the bar and into the South Stand.
SKC ended any hope of a Houston comeback in the 65th minute thanks to Gadi Kinda. Alan Pulido drove into the box and sent a cross to Kinda at the penalty spot, who used his first touch to set up a lovely tap in past Maric to give Sporting a 3-0 lead.
Gerso nearly added a fourth goal in the 72nd minute, but the goal was called back since Roger Espinoza was just offside on the build up. Five minutes later, an unmarked Khiry Shelton received a corner kick from Gianluca Busio and calmly tapped the ball past Maric for Sporting’s fourth goal of the night.
Houston may not be the most formidable defense Sporting KC will face this year, but it’s incredibly encouraging to see new signings Pulido and Kinda getting on the score sheet and being so involved this early in the season. Even beyond those two, though, Khiry Shelton looks like a new man after he returned to Kansas City from a year in Germany.
If Pulido and Kinda continue to get more comfortable in this system and with their new teammates, and the rest of the offense keeps creating chances the way they have in the first two games, this could be the most dangerous Sporting KC offense we’ve ever seen, and one of the best in MLS.
And this is all without Felipe Gutierrez.
Sporting KC have earned all six available points through their first two games of the season. They next travel to Atlanta to take on Atlanta United on Saturday, but that game feels much different now than it did a week ago due to star striker Josef Martinez’s torn ACL. Atlanta is coming off a 2-1 home victory over FC Cincinnati that was probably more difficult than it should have been, so Sporting have a great chance of earning road points if they keep up their current run of form.
We can’t make too many sweeping conclusions after just two games, but we can say this: This isn’t the 2019 version Sporting KC. If these first two games have been any indication of what’s to come, 2020 will be a hell of a year.