"Beyond The Box Score" is a weekly series presented by Compass Minerals that takes a statistical dive into every Sporting match, bringing to light the intriguing numbers and factoids that don't appear in the typical box score. To visit the series archive, click here.
As Sunday's nationally televised showdown at Children's Mercy Park eclipsed the 80-minute mark, Sporting Kansas City were down. But they most certainly were not out.
The dominant team for most of the night against an upstart Austin FC outfit, Sporting staged a breathtaking late rally with goals from Ilie Sanchez and Gadi Kinda to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory.
Manager Peter Vermes' men racked up 25 shot attempts in Sunday's instant classic—two more than the total of their first three matches this season combined—and finished with an expected goals total of 3.7, the highest by any team in an MLS match this year. Yet they found themselves trailing for a significant portion of the contest as Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff, assistant Davy Arnaud and center back Matt Besler made their highly anticipated returns to Sporting after previously starring for Kansas City as players.
Better late than never, as they saying goes, and nowhere was that mantra more appropriate than at Children's Mercy Park in the final MLS matchup of Week 4.
Ilie's 82nd-minute equalizer off a Johnny Russell corner kick and Kinda's 90th-minute winner off a Luis Martins cross and glance-on header by Khiry Shelton vaulted Sporting into a tie for fourth place in the early Western Conference standings. It also marked just the seventh time in club history that Sporting has erased a deficit after the 80th minute to win a regular season match.
SPORTING KC WINS WHEN TRAILING AFTER THE 80TH MINUTE
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
|05/22/1996||vs. RBNY||W 2-1||1-0 in 82nd min||82', 87'|
|09/15/2007||vs. CLB||W 3-2||2-1 in 93rd min||90+3', 90+4'|
|04/05/2015||vs. PHI||W 3-2||2-1 in 91st min||90+1', 90+4'|
|08/15/2015||vs. VAN||W 4-3||3-1 in 81st min||81', 87', 90+4'|
|03/10/2018||at CHI||W 4-3||3-2 in 83rd min||83', 86'|
|06/23/2018||vs. HOU||W 3-2||2-1 in 85th min||85', 88'|
|05/09/2021||vs. ATX||W 2-1||1-0 in 82nd min||82', 90'|
Ilie and Kinda took the headlines on Sunday, and fairly so, but we would be remiss to overlook Sporting's chief playmaker during the hosts' ceaseless attacking onslaught. Making his 100th competitive appearance for the club, captain Johnny Russell singlehandedly created eight scoring chances—the most by a Sporting player in a regular season match since Opta began tracking the statistic in 2010.
Four other Kansas City players—Ilie, Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber and Bobby Convey—had each created seven chances in a game. Russell was the very first to amass eight, a total that included his game-tying assist. Through Week 4, no MLS player has created more chances in a match this season.
For added perspective, only one other player had eight chances created and a primary assist in MLS last year, as New England's Carles Gil managed the feat in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 9, 2020.
MOST CHANCES CREATED BY A SPORTING KC PLAYER IN A MATCH
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, SINCE 2010)
|05/09/2021||Johnny Russell||8||vs. ATX||W 2-1|
|04/20/2018||Ilie Sanchez||7||vs. VAN||W 6-0|
|10/15/2017||Graham Zusi||7||vs. HOU||T 0-0|
|08/19/2017||Graham Zusi||7||vs. DAL||W 2-0|
|07/19/2014||Graham Zusi||7||vs. LA||W 2-1|
|09/27/2013||Graham Zusi||7||vs. PHI||L 0-1|
|05/19/2013||Graham Zusi||7||at DC||T 1-1|
|03/30/2013||Benny Feilhaber||7||vs. MTL||W 2-0|
|03/09/2013||Graham Zusi||7||at TOR||L 1-2|
|05/05/2012||Bobby Convey||7||vs. MTL||L 0-2|
Russell's game-changing performance was emblematic of a full-throttle Sporting side that had awoken from a pedestrian offensive start to the 2021 campaign. After ranking last in MLS with 4.3 chances created through Week 3, Sporting created 21 chances against Austin, including 19 from open play.
By the end of the night, Sporting had finished with more big chances—defined by Opta as situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score—than any other regular season match for the club over the last 12 seasons.
SPORTING KC: MOST BIG CHANCES IN A MATCH
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, SINCE 2010)
|8||05/09/2021||vs. Austin FC||W 2-1|
|7||04/20/2018||vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC||W 6-0|
|7||03/24/2018||at Colorado Rapids||T 2-2|
|6||07/06/2019||vs. Chicago Fire FC||W 1-0|
|6||03/30/2019||vs. CF Montreal||W 7-1|
|6||09/15/2018||at San Jose Earthquakes||W 5-1|
|6||04/13/2016||vs. Colorado Rapids||L 1-2|
|6||10/15/2011||vs. New York Red Bulls||W 2-0|
"I was really proud of the fact that we came out to try to be more like us," Vermes said after the match. "I thought we were good with the ball. I thought we circulated the ball, especially down the left we were very strong. We were creating chances and that’s what I want to see from our team."
Sporting's dramatic breakthrough came at the expense of a resolute Austin team and continued two notable streaks. Vermes' side has now scored in 17 consecutive regular season home fixtures at Children's Mercy Park, tied for the second-longest run in club history. The longest home scoring streak began during the stadium's inaugural campaign in 2011 and carried into 2012.
SPORTING KC: LONGEST HOME SCORING STREAKS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
|Games||First match||Final match|
* denotes active streak
Secondly, Sporting now boasts a 6-0-1 record in their inaugural meetings with MLS expansion teams since 2016. The only expansion club to defeat Sporting in its first trip to Children's Mercy Park was the Montreal Impact, now known as CF Montreal, in 2012.
FIRST SPORTING HOME MATCHES VS. EXPANSION TEAMS SINCE 2016
|05/15/2016||vs. Orlando City SC||W 2-1|
|07/10/2016||vs. New York City FC||W 3-1|
|06/03/2017||vs. Minnesota United FC||W 3-0|
|08/06/2017||vs. Atlanta United FC||T 1-1|
|10/28/2018||vs. LAFC||W 2-1|
|10/11/2020||vs. Nashville SC||W 2-1|
|05/09/2021||vs. Austin FC||W 2-1|
Just as Besler made an emotional return to his hometown club, it seemed poetic that one of his closest friends made history of his own. Graham Zusi, who had been sidelined since last October with a foot injury, went straight into the starting lineup for his 295th regular season appearance in a Sporting uniform. That vaulted Zusi ahead of Besler and into sole possession of first place on the club's all-time charts.
The milestone was one to celebrate for Sporting, but as far as Zusi is concerned, it's an achievement only worth sharing with Besler.
"As far as I’m concerned, any record that myself or Matt holds, whether one of us jumps the other, we’ve done that all together," Zusi said postgame. "So you might as well tattoo both our names in the history books."
MOST MLS REGULAR SEASON APPEARANCES FOR SPORTING KC
|#||Player||Matches||Years with SKC|
|3||Roger Espinoza||258||2008-2012, 2015-present|
This is Zusi’s 13th season in MLS since joining Kansas City out of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. He matches former Chicago Fire defender C.J. Brown (1998-2010) for the most MLS seasons played all with the same club. And among one-club players in MLS history, Zusi’s 295 regular season appearances for Sporting rank third most.
MOST MLS REGULAR SEASON APPEARANCES AMONG ONE-CLUB PLAYERS
|1||Cobi Jones||306||LA Galaxy||1996-2007|
|2||C.J. Brown||296||Chicago Fire FC||1998-2010|
|3||Graham Zusi||295||Sporting KC||2009-present|
|4||Logan Pause||286||Chicago Fire FC||2003-2014|
|5||Diego Chara||284||Portland Timbers||2011-present|
"This club means everything to me; it’s the only one I’ve played for and the only one I know and the only one I’d like to play for," Zusi said. "You go throughout the years and the memories we’ve built here, the trophies we’ve won and the trophies we want to win in the coming years as well. I really have nothing but fond memories from my time here and I’d like to see that continue for as long as possible."
Sporting (2-1-1, 7 points) will have little time to revel in Sunday's wild win, as they are slated to visit rivals Houston Dynamo FC (1-1-2, 5 points) in at 7:30 p.m. CT showdown Wednesday at BBVA Stadium. The Western Conference clash will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app.