A glorious 3-1 victory at Seattle Sounders. Then a disappointing 2-1 loss at home to FC Dallas. One could have easily predicted a fallout failure at Los Angeles Football Club for Sporting Kansas City Wednesday night as the club hit the road for the first of two away matches. And one could have just as easily predicted resiliency from the Peter Vermes tutored club. Four goals later, resiliency had won out. In style.
Alan Pulido, Luis Martins, Daniel Salloi, and Gadi Kinda all found the mark as Sporting KC raided Banc of California Stadium for another big three points.
The match marked the halfway point for Sporting Kansas City on the season. Recent form had taken Sporting within sight of the pinnacle of the conference and the league after a triumphant 3-1 victory at conference leading Seattle Sounders, July 25, to lament after a 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas last weekend.
After that let down, the return of star striker Alan Pulido from international duty at the Gold Cup with Mexico was especially welcomed. Pulido got the call up front from Manager Peter Vermes, flanked by Khiry Shelton on the right and newly minted MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi on the left. The three-man midfield included a return to the #6 by Ilie, flanked by Remi Walter on the right and Gadi Kinda on the left. The backline took its latest trending shape with Graham Zusi, Nicholas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas, and Luis Martins from right to left. Tim Melia stood between the posts.
Gaining points on the night was especially imperative as the battle was the first of a frenzied stretch of Sporting competing in six matches in 18 days, including MLS matches and a Leagues Cup quarterfinal.
Each side survived through the 12th minute through strong last-second defending as opposing attackers breached their box with pace. However, Sporting repeatedly daggered at a disarrayed LAFC defense with quick short passes to exploit niches of space and jabbed with long precise balls to find large swaths of space all over the field. Breakthrough seemed only a matter of time.
In the 20th minute as Zusi played an arching ball forward, Shelton ran undaunted up the middle squeezed by two defenders. LAFC goalkeeper Tomas Romero, eyes on the ball, came out similarly bold. The two collided, allowing Sporting’s Pulido to drive thru to control the ball and finish easily in the open net. Shelton was on the pitch for a while afterwards; fortunately, he was able the shake off the leveling and see his team up one early.
A momentarily foggy-brained Fontas sent a back pass to his goalkeeper eight minutes later, nearly allowing LAFC an easy route back into the match. The errant ball rolled earnestly to Sporting’s goal line, yet, a far left Melia hustled to the ball as the crowd grew hopefully incredulous as to what it was seeing. Arriving just in time, the stalwart netminder played out to safety.
Within that same minute, Sporting would go up two. A central Martins pushed forward and played for a wide left Salloi. A big touch to the end line and cut back would return the ball to Martins, who slotted the ball inside the far post for Martins first goal of his three-season stint with Kansas City.
A moment emblematic of the half for LAFC came in the 43rd minute as Raheem Edwards struck from the left wing off a counterattack. The shot rang off the inside of the far post, only to careen straight back to the secure arms of Melia.
True to form, Sporting had gone up three seven minutes earlier. This time, the in-form Salloi finished sublimely, yet nonchalantly inside the near post from a right-wing feed from Zusi. The strike was taken so quickly and so simply that netminder Romero never had a chance. It was 10 goals then for the Hungarian assassin.
If not for sloppy touches in final moments, Sporting’s first half goal total could have been more.
After halftime, the plot was different. Sporting’s touch and constructs became consistently sloppy and LAFC took advantage. From the 51st to the 56th minute, reigning Golden Boot holder Diego Rossi went over the ball from close range, midfielder Jose Cifuentes hit a low screamer just wide left, Carlos Vela saw a ball deflected just behind him while on the doorstep, and Rossi went wide of the goal from the left past a coming Vela.
Perfect timing reunited with Kansas City in the 58th with a smart move from Kinda. Spying Zusi receiving on the right, the Israeli native snuck between LAFC’s two center backs just onside and nodded in a zeroed-in Zusi cross for a 4-0 lead.
Vermes would rest Pulido and Walter in favor of Wilson Harris and Roger Espinoza in the 72nd minute and Kinda in favor of Jaylin Lindsey in the 78th.
Perhaps inevitably, as Sporting has only two shutouts this season, LAFC’s Danny Musovski broke free in the 83rd minute to salvage some dignity for the hosts.
A few other close calls came for Kansas City as the contest closed out, including a Fontas foul just outside the box, but the guests had left their mark.
Onward to this Saturday, Kansas City will travel to Colorado Rapids, then host Club Leon Tuesday, August 10.