Blink twice and you might have missed it.

Sporting Kansas City (12-5-7, 43 points) reclaimed second place in the Western Conference by striking twice in the opening six minutes of a comfortable 2-0 win over Chicago Fire FC (6-12-5, 23 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

In a match that saw Sporting play on Sept. 11 for the first time ever—and on a night that saw Kansas City join the rest of the country in remembering the tragic 9/11 attacks from exactly 20 years ago—midfielder Jose Mauri and captain Johnny Russell put the game to bed just as soon as it began.

Mauri opened his MLS scoring account within four minutes, his long-range effort trickling through the legs of culpable Chicago goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, before Russell slotted home the simplest of rebound finishes with precisely 5:40 on the clock.

This sizzling start to the contest marked the fastest time ever that Sporting has bagged two goals in an MLS regular season match. Moreover, it was just the third regular season game in which Kansas City scored twice in the first 10 minutes. The first occurrence took place in a season-opening road win over D.C. United in 2007, while the second came at the expense of—you guessed it—the Chicago Fire in 2013.

SPORTING KC: TWO GOALS IN FIRST 10 MINUTES
(ALL-TIME IN MLS REGULAR SEASON)

  • 04/14/2007 | W 4-2 at D.C. United | goals in 3rd and 8th minutes
  • 07/06/2013 | W 2-1 at Chicago Fire FC | goals in 6th and 8th minutes
  • 09/11/2021 | W 2-0 vs. Chicago Fire FC | goals in 4th and 6th minutes

“Today, it was an important thing for us to get the first goal because we wanted to be out in front and let the other team have to chase the game a little bit and put them under pressure and hopefully create some other things,” Sporting Manager Peter Vermes said after the match. “We gave up a few chances today and that part I didn’t like, but we also created a lot of other chances. We probably could have scored quite a few more goals. All in all, a good day (with) three points.”

Mauri’s goal was particularly significant, as the 25-year-old Argentine-Italian midfielder was making his highly anticipated Children’s Mercy Park debut after joining the club last month. By finding the back of the net on Saturday, he became just the third Sporting player to score a goal in his Children’s Mercy Park regular season debut. Current teammates Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido managed the feat in a memorable 4-0 win over Houston Dynamo FC on March 7, 2020, while Soony Saad celebrated his 19th birthday with a stadium debut goal against the Portland Timbers in a 3-1 triumph on Aug. 17, 2011.

GOAL IN CHILDREN’S MERCY PARK DEBUT
(SPORTING KC PLAYERS IN MLS REGULAR SEASON)

  • Soony Saad | 08/17/2011 | W 3-1 vs. Portland Timbers
  • Gadi Kinda | 03/07/2020 | W 4-0 vs. Houston Dynamo FC
  • Alan Pulido | 03/07/2020 | W 4-0 vs. Houston Dynamo FC
  • Jose Mauri | 09/11/2021 | W 2-0 vs. Chicago Fire FC

Mauri’s tally may have been a statistical rarity—the deep-lying midfielder had scored only twice previously during a club career that began in 2013—but there was nothing out of the ordinary when Russell brought the sold-out crowd to its feet in the sixth minute.

By converting his fifth goal of the 2021 campaign, Russell joined elite company as one of three MLS players with at least 30 goals and 30 assists in the regular season and playoffs since the start of 2018, the same year he joined Sporting from English side Derby County FC.

Russell’s 30 goals and 30 assists put him into an exclusive club alongside LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Portland’s Diego Valeri, two of the league’s most prolific players.

30 GOALS + 30 ASSISTS IN MLS REGULAR SEASON + PLAYOFFS SINCE 2018

  • Carlos Vela | LAFC | 59 goals, 37 assists
  • Diego Valeri | Portland Timbers | 32 goals, 41 assists
  • Johnny Russell | Sporting KC | 30 goals, 30 assists

Sporting’s 2-0 lead would stand unchanged for the remainder of the evening, securing three precious points as Vermes’ men kept within two points of first-place Seattle Sounders FC in the Western Conference. The club is now 14-0-0 when scoring at least two goals since settling for a 2-2 road draw against the Fire on Oct. 17, 2020.

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A sound defensive display and a dose of misfortune for Chicago—the Fire hit the woodwork twice in the second half through Luka Stojanovic and Federico Navarro—gave Sporting its sixth shutout of 2021 and its first on home soil since May 16.

Goalkeeper Tim Melia, of course, was largely to thank for Chicago’s goose egg on Saturday night. The result gave him the 58th regular season shutout of his Sporting career—the most in MLS since 2015 when Melia cemented a starting spot between the posts. Indeed, Melia’s 58 shutouts over the last seven regular seasons are one more than Seattle’s Stefan Frei and three more than retired keeper Luis Robles.

Perhaps more impressively, Melia has tied an all-time MLS record by posting 10 wins in seven consecutive regular seasons. The only others to match that accomplishment are Frei, Robles and fellow retiree Nick Rimando.

TEN GOALKEEPER WINS IN SEVEN STRAIGHT MLS REGULAR SEASONS

  • Nick Rimando | Real Salt Lake | 2008-2014 | 15 total 10-win seasons
  • Luis Robles | New York Red Bulls | 2013-2019 | seven total 10-win seasons
  • Stefan Frei | Seattle Sounders FC | 2014-2020 | seven total 10-win seasons
  • Tim Melia | Sporting KC | 2015-2021 | seven total 10-win seasons

MOST SHUTOUTS SINCE 2015 (MLS REGULAR SEASON)

  • 58 | Tim Melia | Sporting KC
  • 57 | Stefan Frei | Seattle
  • 55 | Luis Robles | NY Red Bulls, Miami
  • 46 | David Bingham | San Jose, LA Galaxy
  • 46 | Andre Blake | Philadelphia
  • 46 | Sean Johnson | Chicago, NYCFC

All in all, Saturday’s victory was the ideal remedy for a Sporting outfit that had suffered a 4-0 setback at the hands of LAFC just eight days earlier. In that respect, the bounce-back performance was emblematic of a team that has responded to each of its five losses this season with a win in the very next match.

That’s right, Sporting boasts a perfect 5-0-0 record in games immediately following losses this year. That’s the best mark in MLS and underscores the resolute mentality that Vermes has instilled in his team.

BEST RECORDS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING LOSSES
(2021 MLS REGULAR SEASON)

  • Sporting KC | 5-0-0 (3 points per match)
  • Nashville SC | 2-0-0 (3 points per match)
  • Colorado Rapids | 3-0-1 (2.5 points per match)
  • New York City FC | 5-2-0 (2.14 points per match)
  • LA Galaxy | 5-1-2 (2.13 points per match)
  • New England Revolution | 2-0-2 (2 points per match)

“That’s what it really comes down to is mentality,” Vermes said postgame. “It’s a great commitment within the group to be able to turnaround and come back from something like that. There’s a lot of times in this league if you watch teams, they’ll be doing really well. And then all of a sudden, they lose (multiple games). They’re riding the wave as long as they can and then they kind of fall off it and it takes them a little while to get back on it. The guys have done a really good job of turning that back around again for the next game.”

Vermes, the longest tenured head coach with one club in MLS history, has seemingly reached one new milestone after another over the last few seasons. And although he didn’t reach any major landmarks on Saturday, he did collect a win that carries statistical relevance.

With 167 regular season wins as Sporting’s manager, Vermes has accounted for exactly half of Kansas City’s 334 victories in MLS dating back to the inaugural 1996 campaign.

SPORTING KC WINS BY HEAD COACH (MLS REGULAR SEASON)

  • 167 wins | Peter Vermes | 167-126-100 | 2009-present
  • 86 wins | Bob Gansler | 86-85-51 record | 2000-2006
  • 50 wins | Ron Newman | 50-50-0 record | 1996-1999
  • 27 wins | Curt Onalfo | 27-29-22 record | 2007-2009
  • 4 wins | Brian Bliss | 4-4-6 record | 2006

Riding newfound momentum, Sporting can jump atop the Western Conference standings on Wednesday when regional rivals Minnesota United FC (8-7-7, 31 points) visit Children's Mercy Park for a 7:30 p.m. CT kickoff. Tickets for the pivotal matchup are available at SeatGeek.com with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app.

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