Beyond the Box Score

Beyond the Box Score presented by Compass Minerals: Salloi and Sporting continue to defy the odds in win over LAFC

The 2021 script has become predictable at this point. After falling behind, Sporting Kansas City unleash an attacking barrage and claw their way to a thrilling come-from-behind victory. 

Rinse and repeat.

Just 12 matches into the 2021 MLS regular season, Manager Peter Vermes’ men already have a remarkable five comeback wins and 16 points gained from losing positions. The latest drama-drenched fightback came during a glorious Saturday afternoon at Children’s Mercy Park, where rainbows colored the Members Stand and the skies above in a 2-1 barnburner against LAFC.

A national audience on ESPN was treated to one compelling plot twist after another, with LAFC surging ahead in the first half only to go down a man when defender Tristan Blackmon received his marching orders for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity in the 58th minute. 

From there, Sporting’s cast of 2021 stars—namely Alan Pulido and Daniel Salloi—stole the show. In the 61st minute, Pulido picked out the bottom corner from 15 yards to make the score 1-1. The Mexican international, who was later forced to exit the game with a foot laceration that required stitches, has become one of only three MLS players with six or more goals in the 2020 and 2021 regular seasons alongside Raul Ruidiaz of Seattle Sounders FC and Nani of Orlando City SC.

Exploiting their numerical advantage, Sporting continued to lay siege on LAFC’s goal and were rewarded in the 87th minute when three Sporting KC Academy products combined for the winner. Gianluca Busio, who won a game-high five tackles and 12 duels, spread the ball left to Felipe Hernandez, who was coming off a one-goal, one-assist performance in Wednesday’s home win over the Colorado Rapids. Hernandez then teed up an open Salloi, who curled a beauty into the far right corner to seal the 2-1 victory.

Incredibly enough, Sporting’s five comeback wins this year have already tied a single-season club record previously set in 1996 and 2007. Three of those five have come with Sporting trailing at halftime. An equally wild fact? Major League Soccer’s 26 other teams have combined for only six wins when down at intermission this season.

Table 1 Comeback Winners

The 24-year-old Salloi has delivered one of the feel-good stories of the year, breaking out for seven goals and three assists through Sporting’s first dozen matches. That’s already more goals than the club’s top three scorers—Pulido, Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda—from a 2021 season that spanned 21 matches.

Salloi now ranks third in MLS in both goals (seven) and combined goals and assists (10), competing in elite company with the likes of Ruidiaz, Chicharito of the LA Galaxy and Carles Gil of the New England Revolution.

The Hungary-born winger has also displayed a clutch gene that has become impossible to ignore. In addition to leading MLS with four game-winning goals this year—the most by a Sporting player since Salloi bagged six in 2018—he is now tied for sixth in club history with 10 career match winners in the regular season.

Of the seven players in Kansas City history to score 10 game-winning goals, Salloi has done so in the fewest appearances. Nearly half of his regular season goals—10 of 22, to be exact—have stood as match winners.

Table 2 Daniel Salloi

Salloi is currently scoring at a clip that only a few Kansas City players have eclipsed in the past. His 0.58 goals per game rate in 2021is the fourth-best by a Sporting player in a single season behind Miklos Molnar in 2000 (0.71), Dom Dwyer in 2014 (0.67) and Eddie Johnson in 2007 (0.63).

All in all, a capacity crowd of 20,213 fans—the largest attendance at Children’s Mercy Park since the 2020 home opener—would have left the stadium largely delighted by what had transpired over the course of 90 gripping minutes.

Supporters have grown accustomed to Sporting’s dominance at Children’s Mercy Park this year. The club boasts a 5-0-2 home record in 2021, marking the fifth time in team history that Sporting has gone unbeaten in its first seven regular season matches of a regular season. The feat first occurred in 2000 and has since been accomplished four times during the Children’s Mercy Park era.

Saturday’s triumph saw Sporting climb within two points of still-unbeaten Seattle at the top of the Supporters’ Shield table. With a 7-3-2 record and 23 points, Sporting are off to their fourth-best 12-game start in club history.

Table 3 Strong Starts

With two impressive home wins in four days under their belts, Sporting will recuperate over the next week before visiting Chicharito and the LA Galaxy (7-3-0, 21 points) at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, July 4. The marquee Fourth of July fixture will kick off at 9:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City.