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Fateful turns in Florida for Sporting Kansas City

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Three get on the scoresheet as Sporting stays alive in season restart.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Sporting Kansas City Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

An alive attack led by Khiry Shelton and Alan Pulido, combined with a flurry of VAR decisions, turned a deficit into a lead for Sporting Kansas City Friday night in its battle with Colorado Rapids. However, the scoring was not done.

Friday evening, Sporting Kansas City came into their second match in the MLS is Back tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, needing a triumph.

Win and they would put themselves in a much stronger position times two. A win would not only keep them from possibly losing back-to-back matches since the 2020 MLS season began in late February with two convincing victories, it would put Sporting in a much better position to advance in the season restart tournament.

Manager Peter Vermes’ hand was forced in starting goalkeeper Richard Sanchez over stalwart Tim Melia due to Melia’s red card in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Minnesota United FC. But he freely inserted winger Johnny Russell over Gerso and kept the rest of the Starting 11 the same from the loss.

Colorado, in a similar standing, started the match warmer with two early chances at Kansas City’s goal. It was the third that found paydirt in the 6th minute. As the ball traveled from left to right across the top of Sporting’s box, Kellyn Acosta strode into space and smacked a left-footed blast into the upper left corner of the goal far over Sanchez’s right shoulder for the early, and deserved, lead.

However, through Ilie, Sporting turned the momentum. The midfield general smartly sprang right winger Khiry Shelton in the 15th minute whose shot resulted in a corner for Kansas City. The ensuing play saw Shelton dangerous again as he put a shot on from close range that was cleared off the line by Rapid defender Jack Price.

A 25th minute attempt by Ilie was corralled by Colorado goalkeeper William Yarbrough after the sliding volley off a corner was deflected; the only chance generated through the middle of the first half before the hydration break due to the high humidity.

The feisty match, aided by Referee David Gantar’s letting play go, meant yellow cards for two Colorado players and Gadi Kinda for Kansas City by halftime as play lacked rhythm and not enough time on the ball for each side’s danger men.

Sporting’s varied ball movement led to some promising buildups early in the second half. Yet, nothing came to fruition. Perhaps to enhance the attacking threat, Gerso entered for Russell in the 54th minute.

Played opened up as the half continued, leading to Sporting becoming more susceptible to the counter. But it was Sporting’s own counter that put Shelton inside Colorado’s last man Danny Wilson. Wilson purposefully wrapped up the charging Shelton, earning a red card expulsion after VAR review in the 61st minute.

Alan Pulido’s subsequent free kick pinged off the bar, but Kansas City now had even more inroads to a positive result.

Gerso beat then deked his man repeatedly on the wing before laying off for left back Luis Martins. Martins’ cross was kept in by a hustling Kinda who lofted the ball across the goal. And it was Shelton who was present and who tucked the pass inside the far post at an acute angle to level the match. It was the surging Shelton’s third of the season.

VAR played match-turner again minutes later as Graham Zusi’s in-box cross was apparently handled by former (and flabbergasted) KC man Diego Rubio. Pulido buried the penalty – the Mexican native’s third goal – easily past Yarbrough for the lead in the 72nd minute.

Shortly thereafter, Price earned a red card, putting Sporting up two men.

Gianluca Busio came on for Kinda in the 82nd minute as Sporting looked to avoid a waning-moments fall like last Sunday’s.

But soccer’s sometimes unkind nature allowed Rapids’ winger Jonathan Lewis to get behind the Sporting defense off a give and go with former Sporting player Kei Kamara. VAR saw no offside despite Kansas City claims and the match was leveled by Lewis’ far post finish.

As 12 minutes of stoppage-time was posted, Martins struck a corner that a diving Pulido nodded back across from the back post where Shelton’s deft skill and shot was blocked in front of goal. The ball came to Zusi whose shot caromed off a Rapid defender and over a helpless Yarbrough into the goal to put Sporting in front once again. And in final.

Sporting Kansas City will now face Real Salt Lake Wednesday in Florida with a chance to be one of the 16 teams to get into the knockout round of the MLS is Back tournament.