Forward Alan Pulido scored his second MLS goal of the season to help Sporting Kansas City (4-8-5, 17 points) extend its unbeaten run to three matches in a 1-1 draw against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (5-5-6, 21 points) on Saturday night at BC Place in Vancouver.
Pulido nodded the visitors ahead in the 20th minute with an excellent header off Erik Thommy’s corner kick to give Sporting a 1-0 lead that would remain protected until the 88th minute, when Vancouver leveled terms on Ryan Gauld’s late penalty kick. Since the start of May, Sporting has a 4-1-2 record and leads the Western Conference with 14 points.
With his team playing its third MLS match in seven days, Manager Peter Vermes deployed a lineup that featured two changes from the starting XI that helped secure home wins over the Portland Timbers last Sunday and FC Dallas on Wednesday. Center back Robert Castellanos replaced Dany Rosero, who was rested after earning 11 straight MLS starts, and midfielder Remi Walter relieved Gadi Kinda, who was an available substitute while continuing his return to full fitness following a 17-month absence due to injury.
The Whitecaps, who exploded for a club-record six goals in Wednesday’s 6-2 home victory against Houston Dynamo FC, were first to put a shot on goal as German midfielder Julian Gressel tested goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh from distance in the 12th minute. Shortly thereafter at the opposite end, Pulido saw his low drive deflect through traffic and into the mitts of Vancouver gloveman Yohei Takaoka.
The visitors drew first blood with 20 minutes on the clock. Thommy whipped in a right-footed corner kick that was met at the near post by Pulido, who glanced an inch-perfect header into the far left corner for his third goal of the year in all competitions and his fourth in three career appearances against Vancouver. It was also his second career headed goal in a Sporting unform, the first of which came on his MLS debut as Sporting beat Vancouver on Feb. 29, 2020. Thommy, meanwhile, has tallied two goals and three assists since the start of Sporting’s uptick in early May.
Head coach Vanni Sartini’s men thought they had restored parity in the 24th minute when Gauld’s long-range strike took a wicked deflection and trickled into the back of the net. However, VAR intervened and referee Lukasz Szpala disallowed the goal for an offside infraction on Vancouver, much to the relief of Sporting.
An injury setback hit Sporting three minutes before halftime when Logan Ndenbe was forced to exit with a leg problem, summoning the introduction of fellow left back Tim Leibold. The moment preceded a brief period of dominance for the Whitecaps, who peppered Sporting’s goal on the cusp of intermission but were unable to pull even.
Four minutes into second period, Thommy unleashed an identical corner kick from his assist to Pulido by finding substitute center back Robert Voloder at the near post, but the German’s booming header carried high and wide of the target.
McIntosh produced a world-class save on the hour-mark to preserve Sporting’s one-goal advantage. The Whitecaps countered quickly through Gauld, who powered into the attacking third and spread a pass left to Brian White on the breakaway. White tried to beat McIntosh at the near post, but the keeper dove at full extension to get his fingertips to the shot and touch the ball onto the woodwork.
Marinos Tzionis threatened for Sporting in the 64th minute, combining well with Daniel Salloi inside the box before seeing his turf-trimming effort smothered by Takaoka.
Kinda entered the fray with a quarter-hour remaining and wasted no time trying his luck from 25 yards, dragging his shot marginally wide.
VAR worked to Sporting’s favor in the first half but benefited the Whitecaps in the dying embers of the contest. Szpala initially deemed that Voloder’s sliding challenge on Deiber Caicedo inside the box was not a foul, but reversed his call after taking a second look. Gauld promptly stepped to the spot and buried the penalty into the top left corner to make the score 1-1 in the 88th minute.
Sporting spurned a glorious chance to retake the lead in the 9nd minute. Salloi settled into possession on the left side of the box and sent a teasing cross to the back stick for Kinda, who planted his header wide after being pushed to the turf by former Sporting defender Luis Martins. Szpala saw no harm in the play and blew his full-time whistle moments later, drawing an end to a fiercely competitive battle in British Columbia after Caicedo hammered a volley high at point-blank range with the final kick of the game.
Each of the next four Saturday nights will see Sporting play in the friendly confines of Children’s Mercy Park, beginning with a game against Austin FC on June 10 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are available at SeatGeek.com and fans can catch the action live on MLS Season Pass via Apple TV.
2023 MLS Regular Season | Match 17
BC Place | Vancouver, Canada
Weather: 67 degrees and sunny
Sporting Kansas City (4-8-5, 17 points)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC (5-5-6, 21 points)
Sporting Kansas City: Kendall McIntosh; Jake Davis, Robert Castellanos, Andreu Fontas (Robert Voloder 46'), Logan Ndenbe (Tim Leibold 42'); Nemanja Radoja, Remi Walter, Erik Thommy (Roger Espinoza 90+1); Marinos Tzionis (Khiry Shelton 72'), Alan Pulido (Gadi Kinda 72'), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Cam Duke, Felipe Hernandez, Stephen Afrifa
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Yohei Takaoka; Mathias Laborda (Alessandro Schopf 66'), Ranko Veselinovic, Tristan Blackmon, Luis Martins; Julian Gressell, Andres Cubas (Deiber Caicedo 76'), Pedro Vite (Sebastian Berhalter 90+1'); Ryan Gauld, Brian White; Sergio Cordova (Simon Becher 76')
Subs Not Used: Isaac Boehmer, Javain Brown, Matteo Campagna, Ryan Raposo, Russell Teibert
SKC -- Alan Pulido 2 (Erik Thommy 3) 20'
VAN -- Ryan Gauld 2 (penalty kick) 88'
SKC -- Robert Castellanos (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 7'
VAN -- Brian White (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 39'
VAN -- Tristan Blackmon (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 63'
VAN -- Andres Cubas (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 70'
VAN -- Ryan Gauld (yellow card; dissent) 78'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 79'
SKC -- Kendall McIntosh (yellow card; time wasting) 90+5'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Lukasz Szpala
Assistant Referee: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho
Assistant Referee: Jason White
Fourth Official: Mathieu Souare
VAR: Sorin Stoica
AVAR: Eric Weisbrod