"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.



Everything came full circle on a glorious Saturday night at one of North America's finest soccer cathedrals.


Almost fifteen months after sinking Houston Dynamo FC in a sold-out 2020 home opener, Sporting Kansas City welcomed its first full-capacity crowd since the onset of COVID-19 for a highly anticipated showdown against the same opponent at Children's Mercy Park.


Once again, the Cauldron chanted in festive voice. Once again, the atmosphere was electric. Once again, high-profile players cast their magic with moments of undeniable genius. And once again, Sporting emerged with a victory that won't soon be forgotten.


Sporting kept pace near the top of the Supporters' Shield race on Saturday with a 3-2 defeat of Houston that was equal parts thrilling, emotional and downright fun. And Manager Peter Vermes' side did the deed in a fashion that has become customary—if not expected—in the early stages of 2021: they fell behind early before staging an impressive rally to secure all three points.


We begin this edition of Beyond the Box Score, presented by Compass Minerals, with the flashbulb moment that ultimately launched the contest into "instant classic" territory. In the 51st minute, with Sporting down 1-0 despite dominating the run of play, one of the brightest young talents in American soccer sized up a 30-yard free kick.


One day past his 19th birthday, Gianluca Busio unfurled a world-class free kick that bent over the Houston wall, left Dynamo goalkeeper Marko Maric frozen to the turf, caromed off the left post and nestled ever so satisfyingly into the net in front of the South Stand.


Queue riotous celebrations at Children's Mercy Park. And while you're at it, queue a bit of history for Sporting's blossoming midfielder.


With his second goal of the season—and with one of the most iconic strikes in club history—Busio became the youngest MLS player, and the first teenager, to score from a direct free kick since Opta began tracking the statistic in 2010.


"I take pride in taking free kicks," Busio stated with humble confidence after the match. "I think I’ve hit one close to that, but I think that was definitely my best one yet. That was the perfect spot and I’m happy that it when in like that. I definitely think it was my best one yet."


YOUNGEST MLS PLAYERS TO SCORE FROM DIRECT FREE KICK (OPTA ERA SINCE 2010)

<strong>#</strong>
<strong>Player</strong>
<strong>Club</strong>
<strong>Age</strong>
<strong>Date</strong>
1
Gianluca Busio
Sporting KC
19 years, 1 day
05/29/2021
2
Diego Fagundez
New England
20 years, 106 days
05/31/2015
3
Jeisson Vargas
Montreal
20 years, 211 days
04/14/2018
4
Marcos Lopez
San Jose
20 years, 354 days
11/08/2020
5
Mauro Manotas
Houston
21 years, 85 days
10/08/2016

Busio's wonder strike had captured the imagination of Sporting fans and players alike, tilting the momentum pendulum in favor of the hosts. Ten minutes later, red-hot striker Alan Pulido drew a foul inside the penalty box and buried the subsequent spot kick with an inch-perfect finish into the side netting.


It's been well-documented over the last few weeks that Pulido leads MLS in goals and primary assists per 90 minutes played since joining the league at the start of 2020. He has 17 combined goals (11) and assists (six) in just as many MLS starts, offering tangible proof that there simply aren't many—if any—more productive players in the top flight of American soccer.


What deserves a closer look is just how devastating Pulido has been during the month of May. His five goals, six combined goals and assists, 28 shot attempts and 10 shots on goal are all MLS-bests since May 1.


"Alan has incredible street smarts for the game," Vermes said of Pulido, who has four goals and an assist during Sporting's current three-game winning streak. "He knows what the team needs at specific times and he always knows how to provide it. He was excellent tonight again."


MLS SCORING LEADERS SINCE MAY 1, 2021

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<strong>Player</strong>
<strong>Club</strong>
<strong>G+A</strong>
<strong>Goals</strong>
<strong>Assists</strong>
<strong>Shots</strong>
<strong>Shots<br> on goal</strong>
<strong>Chances<br> Created</strong>
Alan Pulido
SKC
6
5
1
28
8
10
Damir Kreilach
RSL
6
3
3
10
5
7
Raul Ruidiaz
SEA
5
4
1
20
5
3
Rubio Rubin
RSL
4
4
0
10
5
7
Maxi Urruti
HOU
4
3
1
17
7
5
Ola Kamara
DC
4
3
1
5
4
1
Marcelino Moreno
ATL
4
3
1
12
4
6
Caden Clark
RBNY
4
3
1
4
4
6

Pulido's 61st-minute penalty had given his team a 2-1 cushion, but Sporting weren't finished. A breathtaking attacking move four minutes later saw Busio and Khiry Shelton combine to tee up Israeli midfielder Gadi Kinda, who side-footed a clever shot inside the near post to put the game out of reach.


With Kinda finding the back of the net, Sporting has become the only MLS team to have three players with at least three goals this season. Pulido has five, while Kinda and forward Daniel Salloi have three apiece.


Kinda's strike was historic for two notable reasons: first, it marked the second time ever that Sporting has scored three goals in three consecutive regular season matches. Remarkably enough, Kansas City hadn't managed that feat since 2007. With a trio of three-goal explosions against Vancouver, San Jose and Houston, Sporting ended Saturday with a league-leading 15 goals.


Additionally, Kinda's goal bookended a scorching 15-minute stretch in which Sporting struck three times. It was only the eighth occasion in the decade-long history of Children's Mercy Park where Vermes' men bagged three goals in the space of 15 minutes in a regular season contest.


"If you’re a fan and you came and watched the game today, you were incredibly entertained," Vermes astutely pointed out during his post-game press conference. "So I applaud the players for that—a tremendous effort from that point of view."


THREE GOALS IN THREE STRAIGHT MATCHES (SPORTING KC, ALL-TIME REGULAR SEASON)

<strong>Dates</strong>
<strong>Opponents</strong>
<strong>Results</strong>
05/26/2007<br> 06/02/2007<br> 06/16/2007
at New England<br> vs. NY Red Bulls<br> at NY Red Bulls
W 4-3<br> W 3-2<br> T 3-3
05/16/2021<br> 05/22/2021<br> 05/29/2021
vs. Vancouver<br> at San Jose<br> vs. Houston
W 3-0<br> W 3-1<br> W 3-2

THREE SKC GOALS IN 15 OR FEWER MINUTES (REGULAR SEASON AT CHILDREN'S MERCY PARK)

<strong>Date</strong>
<strong>Opponent</strong>
<strong>Result</strong>
<strong>Goals</strong>
07/23/2011
Toronto
W 4-2
28', 33', 37'
04/19/2014
Montreal
W 4-0
71', 74', 86'
05/20/2015
New England
W 4-2
39', 43', 46'
05/29/2015
Dallas
W 4-0
51', 57', 64'
08/15/2015
Vancouver
W 4-3
81', 87', 94'
05/17/2017
Seattle
W 3-0
56', 58', 69'
03/30/2019
Montreal
W 7-1
43', 45+2', 50'<br> 78', 84', 89'
05/29/2021
Houston
W 3-2
51', 61', 65'

If any spectators felt a sense of deja vu with how the game unfolded, here's a possible explanation: Sporting came back to win. Again.


The club has a ridiculous four come-from-behind wins after just eight games this year, already one shy of tying Kansas City's single-season record set in 1996 and 2007. Sporting's 12 points from losing positions are eight more than any other MLS team this season.


"We have a good attitude," Kinda said postgame. "We play the same football if we have one goal more or less against us. I’m very happy with our second half. We showed our character."


MOST POINTS GAINED FROM LOSING POSITIONS (2021 MLS REGULAR SEASON)

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<strong>Club</strong>
<strong>Points</strong>
<strong>Wins</strong>
<strong>Ties</strong>
Sporting Kansas City
12
4
0
Inter Miami CF
4
1
1
New England Revolution
4
1
1
Real Salt Lake
4
1
1
New York City FC
4
1
1

Sporting's penchant for battling from behind has been aided by the fact that their offense has clicked on all cylinders over the last three weeks. The table below says everything you need to know about the club's razor-sharp attacking form.


SPORTING KC IN MLS WEEKS 4-7 (MAY 7-30)

<strong>Stat</strong>
<strong>Value</strong>
<strong>MLS Rank</strong>
Wins
4
t-1st
Goals
11
1st
Goal differential
6
1st
Chances created
74
2nd
Big chances&nbsp;
18
1st
Shots
103
1st
Shots on goal
35
1st
Passing accuracy
86.9%
2nd
Possession
58.1%
4th
Successful passes
2,343
1st

While the likes of Kinda, Busio and Pulido treated fans to snapshots of brilliance, Sporting's gloveman between the posts quietly extended what has become a historic regular season winning streak.


Veteran Tim Melia returned from a pectoral injury on May 16 and has helped Sporting to three victories on the trot. By doing so, he has stretched his regular season winning run to six games dating back to the end of the 2020 campaign. His six successive wins in regulation are the second-most in club history behind the nine that newly announced Sporting Legend Jimmy Nielsen rattled off from the end of 2011 to the start of 2012.


MOST CONSECUTIVE WINS IN REGULATION
(SKC GOALKEEPERS, ALL-TIME REGULAR SEASON)

<strong>Player</strong>
<strong>Wins</strong>
<strong>First match</strong>
<strong>Final match</strong>
Jimmy Nielsen
9
10/15/2011
04/18/2012
Tim Melia
6
10/24/2020
05/29/2021
Tim Melia
4
08/04/2018
08/25/2018
Tim Melia
4
10/25/2015
03/20/2016
Bo Oshoniyi
4
08/06/2005
08/19/2005
Tony Meola
4
09/27/2003
10/18/2003
Tony Meola
4
05/13/2000
05/27/2000
Tony Meola
4
04/15/2000
04/29/2000

Lastly, we would be remiss not to give shoutouts to two of the most recognizable players to ever wear a Sporting uniform, both of whom hit mention-worthy milestones of longevity on Saturday night.


With a start in midfield, Roger Espinoza passed current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin for third place on the club's all-time chart in regular season minutes. Defender Graham Zusi, meanwhile, tied longtime teammate and current Austin FC defender Matt Besler for first place in club history with 348 appearances across all competitions.


MOST REGULAR SEASON MINUTES FOR SPORTING KC (MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

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<strong>#</strong>
<strong>Player</strong>
<strong>Minutes</strong>
<strong>Years with SKC</strong>
1
Matt Besler
25,501
2009-2020
2
Graham Zusi
23,294
2009-present
3
Roger Espinoza
20,522
2008-2012; 2015-present
4
Kerry Zavagnin
20,515
2000-2008
5
Nick Garcia
20,157
2000-2007

MOST APPEARANCES FOR SPORTING KC IN ALL COMPETITIONS (ALL-TIME)

<strong>#</strong>
<strong>Player</strong>
<strong>Matches</strong>
<strong>Years with SKC</strong>
1
Graham Zusi<br> Matt Besler
348<br> 348
2009-present<br> 2009-2020
3
Roger Espinoza
309
2008-2012; 2015-present
4
Kerry Zavagnin
291
2000-2008
5
Davy Arnaud<br> Nick Garcia
273<br> 273
2002-2011<br> 2000-2007

In a wild twist of fate, the top five players on Kansas City's all-time appearances chart could each play a part in Sporting's next match on June 12 when Austin FC makes its second trip to Children's Mercy Park. Zusi, Espinoza and Zavagnin are set to represent Sporting, while Austin will be led by Besler and assistant coach Davy Arnaud. Tickets for the Western Conference clash, scheduled for 2 p.m. CT, are available at SeatGeek.com.

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