The 2022 season finally arrived for Sporting Kansas City at Atlanta United’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday afternoon. Manager Peter Vermes and his charges hit the field facing a challenge, but ready to move on from 2021’s playoff exit at home.
Here was the lineup:
Sporting’s press was high and urgent in the early minutes, adding to the rampant mood of the season opener and over 67,000 in attendance.
Kansas City got out on transition in the 3rd minute through Russell. However, the counter was short-lived via a yellow by United back Miles Robinson. Robinson took out Russell on the right flank trying to recover as the Scot flicked the ball over the defender.
United’s Osvaldo Alonso lined up for the next yellow. His late tackle on Ndenbe in 12th minute stopped the Belgian from streaking down the left flank. A third Atlanta yellow would come in the 22nd from Andrew Gutman.
From the Alonso foul, Sporting nearly took the lead. Walter put the subsequent free kick to the back post where Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan misplayed the ball, where it landed at Fontas’ feet. Fontas’ shot to the middle of the goal was cleared before any damage was done.
The next moment of damage would be in the 20th minute and would be self-inflicted. A Rosell pass across the midfield in Sporting’s own half was off the mark and picked up by Atlanta. A quick through ball for Luiz Araujo, flicked on by Josef Martinez to split Isimat-Mirin and Fontas, put the Brazilian in on Melia. A slight chip meant the opening salvo for the hosts.
Kansas City’s chances were spotty, and had that first match feel: close but not really close. In example, the 37th minute saw Espinoza steal, feed for Shelton who fed Walter at the top of United’s box. Walter’s attempt went high and wide left. Ten minutes later, a scrum in United’s box saw the ball come to Isimat-Mirin who was unfortunately on the deck. A few tantalizing bites came to nothing unfortunately.
Then the sharpest bite of all. Former Sporting striker Dom Dwyer, who had subbed on for injured Araujo in the 26th minute, received on an Atlanta counter from the left flank middle channel. The now MLS journeyman was 1v1 with Fontas at the left corner of Kansas City’s box. Fontas lunged, and was found with his weight back, at Dwyer’s mercy. Dwyer cut left and fired home high near post and United was up two three minutes into first half stoppage time.
Fate was not kind to the guests early in the 2nd half neither. Defending in his own end on the right, Rosell pulled up gingerly holding his left hamstring. Jose Mauri soon stepped on to relieve Rosell.
Atlanta remained in command as Sporting built a few “what could have been” moments on the attack. Mostly, Sporting seemed to be fighting to survive.
Russell, on the left wing, and Salloi, on the right, combined for the prettiest attempt on goal in the 72nd minute. Russell drove a cross to the back post that eclipsed two defenders. Salloi’s karate kick shot was bound for goal, but blocked at the defense near post.
The 78th minute saw the debut of Marinos Tzionis, on for Mauri, and saw him slotting in at withdrawn forward.
But it was not until the 85th minute that Sporting made a match of it. Off a corner played near post by 68th minute substitution Felipe Hernandez, Fontas flicked the cross back with his head and found Salloi at the back post. The Hungarian Hitman volleyed inside the far post to give Kansas City a chance.
It was a fleeting chance. On the counter, Atlanta ripped through Sporting’s midfield in the 89th minute to feed for Caleb Wiley in behind Zusi on the right flank. Melia came out to confront, but it was soon 3-1.
Sporting will head to Children’s Mercy Park for their home opener next Saturday to host Houston Dynamo and to find their rhythm in this early season.