The mix was just not right. A deft header from San Jose Earthquakes put the guests – winless in their last eight – in front of hosts Sporting Kansas City – unbeaten in 10 at home and 6-1-1 in their last eight overall – in the 53rd minute at Children’s Mercy Park Wednesday evening. The favorites were left to fight for a result.
Indeed, it was a strange brew that converged upon Sporting Kansas City and Children’s Mercy Park Wednesday evening as San Jose Earthquakes came to visit. Players on international duty, COVID protocols, injury returns, the midweek setting after a 17-day layoff, and opportunity to rise to the top x2 made one wonder what the evening would bring.
Sporting Manager Peter Vermes was absent from the sideline due to COVID protocols and midfielder Gianluca Busio and striker Alan Pulido were absent due to national team duty in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Vermes, surely wielding influence behind the scenes, went with stalwart Tim Melia between the posts, (from r to l) Graham Zusi, Nicholas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas, and Luis Martins along the backline; Remi Walter, Cam Duke, and Gadi Kinda in midfield; and Johnny Russell, Wilson Harris, and Daniel Salloi up front. Of that Starting 11, Isimat-Mirin, Walter, and Kinda were all returning from long-term injuries.
Opportunity knocked for those players to lock a spot in the lineup, but chances were in the air for the team as well. An opportunity to jump atop not only MLS’s Western Conference, but the Supporters’ Shield standings was present for the hosts as well after the matches opponents recently held in hand much went idle Kansas City’s way in the last week. Those chances come just as Sporting begins a mad stretch of 10 matches in all competitions between tonight and August’s end.
An 8th minute San Jose header attempt off a corner that went just wide of Melia’s left post, succeeded by three more corners, were the early attention-getters as the home side shook off the rust. Sporting’s normally crisp passing went the way of hesitation and a lack of vision.
It was not until a spell two minutes later that ended with a Harris chance from Russell that Sporting began to show some flow. Harris’s hit seven yards from the right was struck directly at ‘Quakes keeper JT Marcinkowski who smothered the shot. Salloi, in the 18th minute, mirrored Harris’s attempt after a sloppy away first touch cut his angle.
Four minutes later, a driving Duke seemed destined to open the scoring as he streaked in on Marcinkowski on a solo run through San Jose’s gut. A recovering defender partially blocked Duke’s soon attempt, forcing the netminder to backpedal for the catch.
The two sides traded forays into each other’s box, yet potential held command over fruition in every instance.
However, it was Harris who would bring the biggest roar of the night thus far with a dipping shot over Marcinkowski’s right shoulder in the 39th minute. Hitting from 19 yards, Harris’s shot was do for net, but for the ‘keeper’s quick feet and hands.
As the half came to a close, Sporting held advantage in shots (8-4) and shots on goal at five to zero. Which side lamented the misses the most would clearly play into the match result.
The second half began with Jaylin Lindsey coming into the match for Walter, the victim of a dangerous tackle before the whistle. The insertion pushed Zusi to the six and Lindsey to his accustomed right back.
The necessitated maneuvering may have lifted some eyebrows, but all heads turned to see San Jose’s Nathan flick a driven corner at the near post to inside the back post in the 53rd minute. The infiltrators had unexpectantly grabbed the lead. Would they take home the goods? The fight was in earnest now.
And Kansas City meant business, subbing on veterans Roger Espinoza and Khiry Shelton for Kinda and Harris respectively. Fight became war as San Jose invoked all tactics to find their fleeting joy. Sporting strung together attack after attack to no avail. It seemed the battle had been lost.
Then, effort. Then, perseverance, with a dose of skill. Martins evaded a tackle as he carried down the left wing at pace. He fed for Salloi who fed the box where the ball came to the feet of Russell. Weaving around defenders, Russell’s ankle was caught. Or was it? The referee called for a penalty; a VAR check reversed the call.
Yet, nine minutes of added time was posted. And glory would come. Russell, once again attacking the defense, drew a free kick at the top of San Jose’s box, just left of center. Russell floated the ensuing shot off the crossbar and off the ‘keeper, and as Marcinkowski lay on the pitch, three Sporting players rushed to tap the ball over the line to level the match. Salloi got there first for his eighth of the season.
Salloi cut back for a chance off a long ball in the dying minute with two defenders on him, but his shot was at Marcinkowski as the wild match ended in a draw.
Kansas City will travel to Seattle for a big mid-season matchup with the Sounders Sunday evening, 8pm CST.