When the clock hit 90 minutes at Children's Mercy Park, Sporting Kansas City were staring down the barrel of their first regular season home loss in over nine months. Their club-record 21-game home scoring streak was in jeopardy. Their imperious 13-1-2 home record against San Jose dating back to 2004 looked destined to suffer a blemish in the loss column.
But if supporters have learned anything about the 2021 iteration of Sporting, it must be this: do not count them out until the full-time whistle blows.
Dominating the run of play but facing a 1-0 deficit in a simmering, foul-trodden battle against the Earthquakes, Sporting salvaged a well-deserved equalizer in the 94th minute.
Captain Johnny Russell's curling free kick was touched onto the post by San Jose goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski, but Sporting's standout performer of the 2021 campaign was on hand to smash into an empty net, restore parity and ignite raucous celebrations inside Children's Mercy Park.
Sporting 1, San Jose 1.
The man of the moment, of course, was 25-year-old winger Daniel Salloi, whose storybook season continued Wednesday with his eighth goal of 2021. The forward's insatiable appetite for goals was on full display during that fateful split second that the ball trickled across the goalmouth after Marcinkowski's save. He reacted instinctively, and quick as a flash, to apply the finishing touch and give Sporting their latest game-tying goal in club regular season history.
As the table above illustrates, Sporting has bagged five match-winning goals in the 94th minute or later. Wednesday, however, was the first time that Kansas City drew level four minutes into stoppage time in a regular season contest.
Needless to say, Salloi's case for MLS All-Star inclusion has become undeniable. The Sporting KC Academy product ranks among the league leaders in goals, goals and primary assists combined, match-winning goals, shots and involvement in the opponent's penalty area.
This potent resume illustrates the fact that Salloi, quite simply, has been the most effective winger in MLS this season.
The fact that Sporting came away with a result despite falling behind is nothing new for a team defined by resilience. Of the club's 27 total points this season, 17 have been secured in come-from-behind fashion. Their 17 points from losing positions are more than double the amount of any other MLS club.
On a closely related note, Sporting have grown accustomed to breaking opponents down in the dying embers of the game. Look no further than the numbers below. Kansas City's 12 goals and plus-8 goal differential after the 60th minute this season are both league bests.
Salloi has come to personify this prevalent trait, topping MLS with four game-winning goals and scoring four times after the 70th minute this year.
The outmatched Earthquakes delivered a spirited effort of their own to hang on for the draw but were unable to end Sporting's regular season home unbeaten run.
That streak now stands at 11 matches dating back to October 2020, during which time Sporting has collected nine wins and two ties at Children's Mercy Park while outscoring opponents 23-9. That 11-game streak is one shy of second longest in club history, but Manager Peter Vermes' men have a long ways to go if they want to eclipse the 24-game home unbeaten run that stretched from 2016 to 2017.
In this particular edition of Beyond the Box Score, presented by Compass Minerals, we would be remiss not to mention the tremendous impact of 20-year-old midfielder Cam Duke, who on Wednesday earned his first start of the season. The Sporting KC Academy product and Overland Park, Kansas, native performed admirably in the center of the park, showcasing a lethal combination of pace and acceleration, guile and industriousness over the course of 90 minutes.
Vermes said it best after the match: "(Cam) was probably the player of the game from our perspective. With his speed, his quickness to turn and make separation with other players is tremendous, and tonight he put it on display. I hope he gains a lot of confidence from it because he was, in a lot of respects, unstoppable."
In a lot of respects, Duke was excellent, indeed. And the statistics back it up.
On Wednesday, Duke became the first MLS player since the dawn of the Opta era in 2010 to win 12 duels with a 55% duel success rate, suffer eight fouls and finish with a passing accuracy north of 90%.
The hard-earned draw lifts Sporting within two points of Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC (8-1-5, 29 points) ahead of Sunday’s colossal showdown between the two clubs at Lumen Field in Seattle. The highly anticipated matchup is slated for 8 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest, BallySports.com, the Bally Sports app, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.