How's that for a memorable MLS debut?
Rookie center back Graham Smith donned a Sporting Kansas City uniform for the first time on Saturday night at Children's Mercy Park, playing the full 90 minutes in a wild 3-2 victory over rivals Houston Dynamo.
Smith, a former standout at the University of Denver, had previously made 12 appearances for the Swope Park Rangers during his first year as a professional. The 22-year-old stepped onto an even greater stage Saturday, helping Manager Peter Vermes' men to a massive win that lifted the side three points clear at the top of the Western Conference.
Coming off his first game with Sporting KC, Graham joined the Sporting KC Show on Tuesday night with hosts Nate Bukaty and Carter Augustine to relive the momentous occasion, reflect on his professional experience with the club thus far and harken back to his time growing up in Colorado.
Smith also shared insight on the adversity he overcame in 2017 when his father suddenly passed away last June before his senior campaign at Denver.
"Every time I take the field, I throw up a hand signal for him," Graham said, referring to his father. "I put up four fingers on my right and and two on my left hand. That was his favorite number, 42, and he used it for everything. I do it before every half, and I would have done it had I scored off that corner kick on Saturday."
Smith was referring to the Graham Zusi corner kick that he headed narrowly wide in the second half of Saturday's game when Sporting KC trailed 2-1.
"I thought it was in for sure," Smith said. "I got good contact on it and they didn't leave anybody on the back post, so I was thinking if I could put it anywhere on frame, odds are it would go in. But it was just a little wide."
The scoring opportunity may have escaped Smith, but his team ultimately collected all three points thanks to a late rally that saw Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton come off the bench to score in the final moments.
"One thing I learned was the importance of mentality from the start," Smith said. "In the second half, the mentality of the team was as good as it can be and the on-field product reflected that. Conceding those goals in the first half lit a fire."
While Smith was the star of the Sporting KC Show, grizzled veteran Roger Espinoza visited with The Border Patrol the following morning. With just 16 games played this season, Espinoza has already notched a career-high six assists and ranks among the MLS leaders in chances created from the run of play.
Listen to the entirety of both podcasts below.