Kevin Ellis' MLS debut began with him taking an unfamiliar position on the pitch and ended with the young fullback making a big contribution to Sporting Kansas City's first home victory since May 5.
It wasn't a bad early birthday celebration for the first Home Grown player to see league action for Sporting.
“You dream of having those kinds of games,” Ellis told MLSsoccer.com after Sporting beat Columbus 3-2 on Saturday night to snap a four-match winless streak. “You dream of having the confidence of your coach to put you in at a time like that.”
Ellis, who turned 22 on Sunday, came on for left back Seth Sinovic in the 63rd minute with the score knotted at 2. Normally a right back, Ellis looked comfortable on the other side – and his long ball into the area, on an 80th-minute counterattack, began the sequence that ended with Kei Kamara's game-winner in Sporting's 3-2 victory.
That wasn't the only moment of Ellis' night that impressed manager Peter Vermes, though.
“He was actually very, very good in the air and excellent on the ball,” Vermes said in the postmatch news conference. “He did a great job and his dominant foot is not left. So he managed that side very well, and I believe that he helped close out the game for us.”
Vermes wasn't the only one praising Ellis, whose first competitive start came on May 12 in U.S. Open Cup play.
“He deserves a lot of credit for that performance, and I'm very, very happy for him,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “He's been working very hard, and he had a lot of patience. Today, he's my hero.”
Ellis is in his third professional season, but until this year his only competitive minutes came in an early-round Open Cup game in 2011. But with Sinovic still dealing with a hamstring tweak and Mechack Jerome on Gold Cup duty with Haiti, Ellis could see his first league start on Wednesday when Sporting host Vancouver.
“He's been working very hard for it,” Nielsen said. “He hasn't just been sitting back and waiting for things to come to him. He's attacking the things right now. He came on as a left back today, and nobody was nervous for that. He showed today that he belongs on this team and that he can perform on this level.”