Captain Johnny Russell scored his 50th career goal in MLS competitions on Saturday night as Sporting Kansas City (0-6-3, 3 points) fell 2-1 to Eastern Conference leaders New England Revolution (6-1-2, 20 points) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
After New England took a two-goal lead behind Giacomo Vrioni’s first-half brace, Sporting produced a spirited fightback as Russell struck in the 50th minute on a set piece assist from fellow winger Daniel Salloi. Despite being reduced to 10 men on a 61st-minute red card to Andreu Fontas, Sporting nearly conjured a late equalizer when Felipe Hernandez’s venomous blast in the 90th minute was touched onto the post by New England goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic.
Manager Peter Vermes made four changes to Sporting’s lineup from last weekend, including three changes along the backline as Fontas replaced the suspended Robert Castellanos, Cam Duke replaced the injured Graham Zusi and Logan Ndenbe landed his 2023 debut in place of Robert Voloder. Hernandez also made way for fellow midfielder Roger Espinoza, who notably earned his 300th career start in MLS competitions. On Sporting’s bench, Designated Player Gadi Kinda was part of the club’s matchday squad for the first time since Nov. 28, 2021, after recovering from knee surgery.
Visiting Gillette Stadium for the first time since April 2018, Sporting began brightly by manufacturing the game’s first chance inside three minutes. Mexican striker Alan Pulido split New England’s midfield lines, galloped goalward and spread the ball centrally to Erik Thommy, who played a first-time pass to Salloi on the left side of the box. The Hungarian international took a settling touch and unleashed a deflected shot that forced Petrovic into a reflex save.
New England quickly responded with a pair of fleeting opportunities at the opposite end. Eighteen-year-old winger Esmir Bajraktarevic planted a header over the crossbar off Emmanuel Boateng’s cross before Vrioni tried his luck with a strike that lacked the power and placement to beat veteran goalkeeper Tim Melia.
Vrioni would not be denied in the 31st minute, as the Italian-born striker lifted New England ahead by finishing off an incisive attack catalyzed by Boateng and Revolution captain Carles Gil. He doubled his tally just four minutes later on another play involving Gil, whose initial shot was saved well by Melia before Vrioni tucked home the rebound to make the score 2-0.
Ndenbe provided a spark for Sporting in the 40th minute, surging into the final third and threading a through ball into the path of an on-running Espinoza, but Petrovic rushed off his line to extinguish the danger and compound Sporting’s first-half frustrations.
Five minutes after the restart, Russell opened his 2023 scoring account and snapped Sporting’s 404-minute goalless drought. Awarded a free kick on the left wing, Vermes’ men duly cashed in as Salloi’s teasing delivery to the far post was steered home by Russell to cut New England’s lead in half. The Scottish winger has now scored in each of his last two appearances against the Revolution, while Salloi is the ninth player in Sporting history to record 75 combined goals (49) and assists (26) for the club in all competitions.
Enjoying momentum, Sporting suffered an unwelcome counterpunch on the hour mark when Fontas was sent off for fouling Vrioni on the breakaway and denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Referee Nima Saghafi first showed Fontas a second yellow card, which resulted in the ejection, but VAR prompted Saghafi to review the play and brandish an inconsequential straight red card.
The final 20 minutes unfolded in breathless, end-to-end fashion. Melia, who finished the game with seven saves, did brilliantly to spare Sporting’s blushes on three occasions. In the 74th minute, the Revolution thought they had restored their two-goal cushion when Gil slipped a clever pass into the penalty area for substitute Justin Rennicks, but his shot and Vrioni’s rebound effort were both smothered by Melia. Not long later, Sporting’s gloveman dove at full extension to cast aside Damian Rivera’s curling strike and spread himself to thwart Gil at point blank range following a costly Sporting giveaway inside its own box.
The final quarter-hour belonged to an energetic Sporting side that refused to fold under adverse circumstances. Russell’s bid for a brace went begging in the 81st minute when his bending effort lifted over the crossbar, then substitute Hernandez saw his admirable strike from 15 yards pegged onto the near post by an outstretched Petrovic.
Sporting opens its 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup campaign on Tuesday by hosting Tulsa Athletic in the third round of the prestigious knockout competition. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT and tickets are available at SeatGeek.com, including a buy one, get one offer that grants admission to both the Open Cup game as well as Sporting’s MLS home match against CF Montreal on Saturday.
2023 MLS Regular Season | Match 9
Gillette Stadium | Foxborough, Massachusetts
Weather: 51 degrees and cloudy
Sporting Kansas City (0-6-3, 3 points)
New England Revolution (6-1-2, 20 points)
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Cam Duke, Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas, Logan Ndenbe (Khiry Shelton 64'); Remi Walter, Roger Espinoza (Felipe Hernandez 67'), Erik Thommy (Chris Rindov 86'); Johnny Russell (C), Alan Pulido (Robert Voloder 64'), Daniel Salloi (Marinos Tzionis 86')
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Jake Davis, Danny Flores, Gadi Kinda
New England Revolution: Djordje Petrovic; Brandon Bye, Andrew Farrell, Dave Romney, Christian Makoun (Ben Sweat 74'); Matt Polster, Noel Buck; Esmir Bajraktarevic (Justin Rennicks 64'), Carles Gil (C), Emmanuel Boateng (Damian Rivera 74'); Giacomo Vrioni (Jack Panayotou (90+6')
Subs Not Used: Earl Edwards Jr., Omar Gonzalez, Joshua Bolma
NE -- Giacomo Vrioni 2 (Emmanuel Boateng 1, Carles Gil 4) 31'
NE -- Giacomo Vrioni 3 (unassisted) 35'
SKC -- Johnny Russell 1 (Daniel Salloi 1) 50'
SKC -- Andreu Fontas (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 20'
SKC -- Andreu Fontas (red card; DOGSO) 61'
SKC -- Robert Voloder (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 89'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Nima Saghafi
Assistant Referee: Corey Rockwell
Assistant Referee: Walt Heatherly
Fourth Official: Guido Gonzales Jr.
VAR: Alejandro Mariscal
AVAR: Jonathan Johnson