A pulsating 4-2 victory over rivals Houston Dynamo FC (5-12-12, 27 points) saw Sporting Kansas City (15-6-7, 52 points) take provisional hold of first place in the Western Conference on Sunday afternoon at sun-drenched Children’s Mercy Park.

Captain Johnny Russell struck on both sides of halftime, becoming the second player in club history to score in five consecutive regular season matches, while fellow forward Daniel Salloi strengthened his MLS MVP bid with a goal and an assist. Midfielder Gadi Kinda also notched one and set up another as Sporting took a one-point lead over Seattle Sounders FC at the top of the West.

With the 170th regular season win of his heralded managerial career, Sporting Manager Peter Vermes became the fourth-winningest coach in MLS history in a game that entertained from start to finish. Vermes’ side leads the league with 11 multi-goal victories in 2021 and has now scored at least three goals on nine occasions this season, tying the club record.

Having secured a thrilling and emotional triumph on home turf, Sporting will recuperate over the next week before hitting the stretch run of the 2021 MLS regular season. Sporting’s first of six remaining fixtures will take place on Oct. 17 when the team visits Vancouver Whitecaps FC for a 9 p.m. CT kickoff at BC Place.

Vermes made a single change to his starting XI from an impressive 3-1 road win over FC Dallas on Wednesday as defender Graham Zusi—who on Sunday became the 12th active MLS player to eclipse 100 combined regular season goals and assists—reclaimed his role at right back with Cam Duke dropping to the substitutes’ bench.

Supporters were treated to a bevy of scoring chances during a 90-minute track meet and burst in applause for the first time after 13 minutes. Russell had raced in behind the Houston defense and was toppled clumsily by Houston’s Sam Junqua in the penalty area. The infraction prompted referee Alex Chilowicz to point to the penalty spot, and after Junqua’s blushes were spared when a VAR review deemed that his foul wasn’t a red card offense, Russell calmly slotted his spot kick into the right corner past Dynamo goalkeeper Michael Nelson. The successful attempt gives Russell goals in five straight games, tying the Kansas City record set by Preki in 1996, and set the stage for more end-to-end action.

Houston had three goals called back for offsides throughout the match, the first of which coming in the 21st minute when Corey Baird chipped a shot over Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia and into the back of the net. With Sporting’s one-goal advantage still intact, Salloi beat the Houston backline a minute later and blistered a strike off the right goal post.

Undeterred, Salloi collected his well-deserved goal in the 26th minute. Frenchman Remi Walter did well to emerge with possession and accelerate into the attacking half before spreading it left to Kinda. The Israeli’s perfectly weighted through ball found Salloi on the left side of the box, and the 25-year-old Sporting KC Academy product made no mistake by firing low across Nelson and into the far right corner. His 16 goals are the second-most in MLS this year and third-most in a single season in Kansas City history.

Displeased with the first half hour, Dynamo head coach Tab Ramos reshuffled his lineup with two first-half substitutes as Maxi Urruti and Joe Corona entered the fray. Houston improved from that point forward and could have drawn a goal back in the 37th minute, only for Urruti’s volley off a clever Darwin Quintero dink pass to scream marginally wide.

The second half erupted with ceaseless energy as both sides committed numbers in attack. Sporting nearly went ahead by three goals in the 48th minute when Khiry Shelton dummied an incisive diagonal pass from Salloi that reached Kinda inside the box, but Nelson produced a crucial save to keep his team alive. Less than a minute later at the opposite end, Melia had an excellent stop of his own, thwarting Quintero’s close-range effort off a driven Urruti cross.

Houston pumped drama back into the spectacle by cutting their deficit in half after 50 minutes. In-form winger Fafa Picault latched onto a looping delivery from Griffin Dorsey and slammed a first-time finish into the roof of the net for his team-leading 11th goal of the year and his ninth in the last 13 games. Dorsey and Picault connected again in the 56th minute, the latter snapping a powerful header past Melia, but the offside flag had been raised.

The Dynamo would rue their missed opportunity shortly thereafter. With 57 minutes on the clock, Kinda weaved his way into the attacking third and played a lovely give-and-go with Salloi before stroking a shot beyond the outstretched Nelson for his fifth goal of the season. Salloi registered his seventh assist of the campaign on the play and leads MLS with 23 total goal contributions on the year—the fifth-most by a Sporting player in a single regular season.

Russell almost put the game to bed in the 74th minute, rifling narrowly wide and into the side netting, before Houston grabbed another goal on 76 minutes to set up a nervy ending. Quintero etched his name onto the scoresheet with a header off Picault’s teasing cross, his second goal of the year and his fourth career MLS goal against Sporting. Not long later, Houston’s third disallowed goal saw Urruti sprint onto a through ball from an offside position and tuck low into the net.

The final five minutes plus stoppage time unfolded in breathless and wildly entertaining fashion. Second-half substitute Roger Espinoza was on the end of a big chance for Sporting in the 85th minute, only to see Nelson come up with a big save. Houston then had a pair of attempts go begging as Quintero curled a free kick inches over the crossbar and Melia made a reflex stop to deny Urruti.

With Houston stretched in search of an equalizer, Sporting wrapped up all three points on a 90th-minute strike from Russell. Receiving a pass from Zusi near the right touchline, the Scottish winger marauded goalward and beat a pair of defenders before placing a superb side-footed shot into the far left corner for his 10th goal of the year. Russell leads MLS with seven goals since Aug. 28 and has six in his last five appearances.

Salloi had a fleeting opportunity to give Sporting their fifth goal of the day near the full-time whistle, but his lobbed effort carried just over the bar.

2021 MLS Regular Season | Match 28
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 17,867
Weather: 72 degrees and mostly sunny

Sporting KC 4-2 Houston Dynamo FC
Score
1
2
F
Sporting Kansas City (15-6-7, 52 points)
2
2
4
Houston Dynamo FC (5-12-12, 27 points)
0
2
2

Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, Andreu Fontas, Luis Martins; Jose Mauri, Remi Walter (Cam Duke 73'), Gadi Kinda (Roger Espinoza 78'); Johnny Russell (C), Khiry Shelton (Alan Pulido 58'), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Kendall McIntosh, Amadou Dia, Roberto Puncec, Kaveh Rad, Grayson Barber, Wilson Harris

Houston Dynamo FC: Michael Nelson; Tim Parker (C), Teenage Hadebe, Maynor Figueroa; Griffin Dorsey, Matias Vera (Memo Rodriguez 79'), Darwin Ceren (Joe Corona 32'), Sam Junqua (Maxi Urruti 32'); Darwin Quintero; Corey Baird (Tyler Pasher 61'), Fafa Picault
Subs Not Used: Kyle Morton, Zarek Valentin, Boniek Garcia, Derrick Jones, Ariel Lassiter

Scoring Summary:
SKC -- Johnny Russell 9 (penalty kick) 16'
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 16 (Gadi Kinda 4) 26'
HOU -- Fafa Picault 11 (Griffin Dorsey 2) 50'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda 5 (Daniel Salloi 7) 57'
HOU -- Darwin Quintero 2 (Fafa Picault 5, Maynor Figueroa 2) 76'
SKC -- Johnny Russell 10 (Graham Zusi 5) 90'

Misconduct Summary:
HOU -- Sam Junqua (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 16'
HOU -- Teenage Hadebe (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 27'
HOU -- Matias Vera (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 53'
SKC -- Graham Zusi (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 85'

Match Statistics
Stat
SKC
HOU
Shots
17
9
Shots on Goal
9
4
Saves
2
5
Fouls
5
13
Offsides
1
5
Corner Kicks
8
1

Referee: Alex Chilowicz
Assistant Referee: Eric Weisbrod
Assistant Referee: Jeffrey Greeson
Fourth Official: Jon Freemon
VAR: Ismail Elfath
AVAR: Diego Blas