Western Conference rivals Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake battled to a 2-2 preseason draw on Wednesday afternoon at Phoenix Rising FC Soccer Complex. Sporting captain Johnny Russell vaulted his side ahead early with a stunning free kick and assisted Willy Agada’s equalizer in the 54th minute to bookend a pair of first-half RSL goals.
Manager Peter Vermes' men were in early control and almost drew first blood inside six minutes, dissecting the RSL defense with a superb side-to-side passing sequence, but Remi Walter's close-range strike off Tim Leibold's clever feed was blocked through traffic.
Sporting nevertheless found themselves ahead two minutes later, capitalizing on a set piece opportunity as Russell sent a 22-yard peach into the far left corner at the expense of a stranded RSL goalkeeper.
RSL responded with a goal against the run of play, pouncing on a turnover at the top of the box and restoring parity on a sharp finish from MLS veteran Damir Kreilach.
Leibold, a preseason debutant who signed for Sporting last month, was replaced by fellow left back Ben Sweat at the 30-minute mark, shortly before Agada swiveled smoothly and had a shot blocked from near the penalty spot.
The longtime rivals continued to trade jabs and RSL took their first lead two minutes before intermission, executing a well-worked one-two as Tate Schmitt finished inside the near post with his left foot.
Agada leveled terms nine minutes after the restart. Russell's low, in-swinging corner kick flashed dangerously across the six-yard area and Sporting's 2022 golden boot winner planted a diving header into the back of the net for his third goal this preseason.
Vermes made 10 substitutions at the 60-minute juncture, with Sweat the one holdover among an otherwise fresh lineup. Shortly thereafter, Ozzie Cisneros did well to settle a long diagonal ball over the top, slip past his defender and flash a teasing cross into the box that recently signed midfielder Danny Flores headed marginally wide of the right post.
RSL, which famously fell to Kansas City in the 2013 MLS Cup at Children's Mercy Park, were next to threaten in the 78th minute, but MLS SuperDraft pick Chris Rindov retreated for a crucial goal line clearance that spared Sporting's blushes.
Sporting's 2023 preseason, presented by Children's Mercy, will see the club return to Kansas City tonight for a week of in-market training before venturing back to Arizona on Feb. 15. The team's next friendly match is slated for Feb. 18 against USL Championship side Phoenix Rising FC, serving as the final tune-up ahead of a highly anticipated MLS regular season opener at the Portland Timbers on Feb. 25.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake
Feb. 8, 2023 – Phoenix Rising FC Soccer Complex (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Sporting Kansas City 2, Real Salt Lake 2
SKC -- Johnny Russell 8'
RSL -- Damir Kreilach 19'
RSL -- Tate Schmitt 43'
SKC -- Willy Agada (Johnny Russell) 54'
Sporting Kansas City Lineup
John Pulskamp (Kendall McIntosh 60); Graham Zusi (Kayden Pierre 60'), Andreu Fontas (Kortne Ford 60' (Nassim Mekideche 73')), Robert Voloder (Chris Rindov 60'), Tim Leibold (Ben Sweat 30'); Roger Espinoza (Felipe Hernandez 60'), Remi Walter (Cam Duke 60'), Jake Davis (Danny Flores 60'); Johnny Russell (Ozzie Cisneros 60'), Willy Agada (Pau Vidal 60'), Daniel Salloi (Yeison Mejia 60' (Shaun Joash 88'))