Just into injury-time, Sporting Kansas City’s Gadi Kinda landed awkwardly off a celebratory somersault in the near corner of Austin FC’s end Sunday evening at Children’s Mercy Park. The landing was as awkward as the host’s play on the evening. But the celebration was an exuberant release after coming from behind to beat the on-a-roll expansion side 2-1.
Sporting and Austin FC came into the match on opposite trajectories. After opening the 2021 MLS regular season with a 2-1 win at New York Red Bulls, Sporting had drawn at home and lost 3-1 at Real Salt Lake. Austin FC – in the fourth match of their season-starting, eight-game away swing – possessed two wins after a franchise-opening 2-0 loss at Los Angeles FC. The expansion side then swept aside the Colorado Rapids 3-1 before draining Minnesota United FC 1-0 last week.
Kansas City manager Peter Vermes picked this lineup to right his side’s listing: GK John Pulskamp; right back Graham Zusi; right center back Roberto Puncec, left center back Andreu Fontas; left back Luis Martins; holding midfielder Ilie; advanced midfielders Gianluca Busio and Roger Espinoza; right winger Johnny Russell; striker Alan Pulido; and left winger Daniel Salloi.
The minutes were Graham Zusi’s first since injuring his foot in October of 2020. The start put him atop the all-time appearances list for Sporting KC at 195, surpassing Kansas City native and longtime Sporting KC player and captain, now Austin FC center back Matt Besler.
Sporting nearly jumped on top in the 5th minute as Pulido was played to the edge of Austin’s box from a left stationed Russell. Russell’s ball behind the defense put Pulido in, but his left-footed shot hit the near-side netting.
Instead, Austin struck first. Forward Jon Gallagher touched once, then put a low shot under Pulskamp from the left side of Kansas City’s box only two minutes after the Pulido threat. The play began deep on Austin’s right side with a pass that was deflected by Busio. The ball fell to wide man Jared Stroud who picked out the running Gallagher from distance, beating the retreating Zusi and Puncec.
Zusi, however, provided an outstanding feed for Busio in both the 17th and 23rd minutes. The first came over the top from deep in Kansas City’s end, the second a cross from the right wing. Busio’s left footed volley off the long ball and his header off the cross both went over Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver’s bar.
Sporting continued to create chances throughout the middle of the half. Mistiming or the ball just out of reach foiled the chances.
Salloi, dangerous repeatedly on the left, made a run to space in the 32nd minute and Espinoza rewarded him with a splitting pass just beyond Austin FC’s right back. Salloi’s attempt, however, was gobbled up by Stuver.
In what had developed into free-flowing match, aided by referee Ted Unkel letting the boys play, Austin would strike next, two minutes on. Yet, this time off the crossbar. From the left 22 yards out, Zan Kolmanic hit a dipping drive that beat the backpedaling Pulskamp, ever so thankful to hear that ping instead of a ripple.
Austin made effective use of the long ball earlier, and they did it again in the 48th minute. Ring played over the top of Sporting’s defense to the right wing to find Stroud. Stroud’s point-blank firing was literally stone walled by Pulskamp as the 20-year-old goalkeeper went big to keep the match within one.
A double substitution for Sporting in the 54th and a single one in the 59th saw Espinoza and Zusi depart, then Puncec for Gadi Kinda, Jaylin Lindsey, and Kaveh Rad respectively.
On a yellow from a previous foul late in the first half, Austin’s Ring earned a second yellow and the accompanying red card ejection for a foul on Ilie in the 67th. The foul was at least the third such infraction by Ring in the half.
Now exerting constant pressure on 10-man Austin, Sporting had to break through a bunker. Chances came via Busio pushing higher and wide men and midfielders interchanging. In the 74th and a minute after, the hosts came close off a Busio penetration that led to a Salloi right footer that Stuver palmed off the bar, followed by a Fontas header within the six-yard box that sailed high.
From a similar spot, Kansas City’s agony would end in the 82nd minute. From a Russell corner, Ilie rose to meet the ball level and put it in the Austin net to tie the match.
Signaling intent, Vermes then inserted Khiry Shelton and Remi Walter for the short-term sub Rad and Salloi.
To the persistent and the persevering often come good things. Pulio kept a ball alive on Austin’s left side outside the box near the sideline just into injury time. Martins latched onto the ball and sent in a cross that Shelton deflected into a bounce that Kinda put a head into to send it over the line and send a jubilant Kinda to the near corner to celebrate.
More chances came, but Kansas City had conquered on a night that did not seem theirs.