In the 25th minute, Sporting Kansas City’s Daniel Salloi cut back decisively deep on the left in Portland Timbers’ box. His subsequent shot was palmed wide of the back post by Timbers’ goalkeeper Steve Clark. It was a shot that most in attendance Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park were sure would find the back of the net. After all, Salloi has been Midas much of the season. Salloi, however, would payback expectations later, snagging joy over full lament for the home team and the home fans.
The Western Conference clash came in the midst of a stretch of seven matches in 22 days, one that Sporting had navigated well, going 2-0-1 in MLS in thus far.
Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes rolled with the hot hand, putting out the same First XI as in the 2-0 win at FC Dallas last Saturday: Tim Melia in goal, supported by (from r to l) Graham Zusi, Ilie, Andreu Fontas, and Luis Martins across the back; Roger Espinoza, Remi Walter, and Gadi Kinda shaping the midfield, and Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, and Daniel Salloi forming the front three.
Celebration was in order from the get-go as Zusi’s start not only coincided with his 35th birthday, but also his ascent to the top of the leaderboard in most regular season appearances among one-club players in MLS history. The start was the 307th of his distinguished career with Kansas City, topping LA Galaxy stalwart Cobi Jones.
Would the festivities continue with the match whistle? Although Sporting (5-3-1 at home in 2021) sat atop the Western conference coop at matches start, in the ultra-competitive MLS, facing the 7th place Timbers (1-6-1 away) was no easy task. In fact, in all competitions between the two sides, the home team has won just five of the last 18 meetings.
Portland came out in a 4-3-2-1 setup, and it thwarted Sporting early. Attacks up the left side, as is Sporting’s leaning, were met by a diamond of defenders, buoyed by cover. The creative and persistent Fontas, Martins, Kinda, and Salloi still had mild success moving the ball for space. But no true penetration was gained in the opening minutes.
It was the visitors who had the best early chance. A deflected Timbers cross snuck by all across the mouth of the goal and past the back post in the 14th minute, eliciting a sigh of relief from the faithful. The moment portended Portland’s rise four minutes later.
As the ball was recycled on the left wing, the Timbers’ Felipe Mora gained position inside Martins at the top-middle of Sporting’s six-yard box. Marvin Loria served up a pinpoint cross that Mora nodded down and to the right of Melia for the opening salvo.
Sporting replied in the 25th minute via infiltration. A left-center Kinda found Pulido’s feet at the top of Portland’s 18. The Mexican International quickly fed a left running Salloi. The rejuvenated wonder kid sent his marker the wrong way with sharp cut back to his right, yet Salloi’s shot was palmed wide of the mark by Timbers ‘keeper Steve Clark.
The attack enlivened the crowd, who boisterously protested ensuing calls from Referee Ismail Elfath. The Timbers would end the half with two yellow card cautions to Sporting’s one.
As the second half drew near, drama beckoned as Sporting had pulled 17 points and five wins from losing positions this season, far above the rest of MLS. However, Sporting had also dropped nine points at home on the season thus far.
Portland had different ideas. The have-the-lead-don’t-care guests circulated the ball in an extended spell of possession in the 52nd minute, forcing the trailing hosts to pursue on their road wearied legs. Eager as Sporting was to please their faithful and increase their lead over Seattle Sounders, the Timbers were eager to get a result after a 6-2 shellacking from their Cascadia rivals Sunday evening.
Having regained some momentum, Sporting nearly mirrored Portland’s goal in the 59th minute. A wide right Zusi crossed well for a nearly far post Kinda. The Israel native got a head on the ball, and as his effort was blocked well by Clark, he followed for a stumbling header that floated into Clark’s arms.
Cross after cross was all Sporting seemed to muster in the ensuing minutes with no substitutes in sight.
Then, near tragedy in the 75th minute. Walter’s errant pass was latched onto and one-timed to Diego Valeri, who quickly came at Melia. Yet, the longtime Timbers’ hero eked his shot just wide of the back post.
Khiry Shelton, Kansas City’s first (and only) sub, stepped on for Espinoza in the 80th minute looking to be a hero himself. The veteran was returning for the first time after sacrificing his body to gain Sporting the opening goal in a 4-1 win at Los Angeles Football Club back on August 4th.
Though Shelton got a piece of a cross in the next 10 minutes, Sporting’s fate came down to eight minutes of stoppage time.
Enter the wonder kid, the Hungarian assassin. Salloi drove at two defenders, and using the slat of space between them, blasted an accelerating drive from 16 yards on the inside right of Portland’s box. Clark endeavored to push the shot wide, but the drive was glory bound inside the near post.
The goal meant Salloi had now scored or assisted in six straight league matches while increasing his season goal tally to 12.
A frantic ending came, and Fontas came close with a reaction header from a failed clearance at the death. But the draw, a deserved one for both sides, was the final result.
Sporting Kansas City will now pick up those legs and head north for a battle at Minnesota United FC on Saturday.