Match Recap

Recap: Sporting falls 1-0 to Houston in Western Conference Semifinals

Sporting Kansas City suffered a season-ending 1-0 loss to Houston Dynamo FC in the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday at Shell Energy Stadium. The hosts went ahead six minutes before halftime through Franco Escobar, and although Sporting created a flurry of opportunities to restore parity, Houston preserved its one-goal cushion until the final whistle.

Manager Peter Vermes fielded a formidable lineup that featured just one change from Sporting’s most recent match on Nov. 5 as left back Tim Leibold—making his first appearance since Sept. 16—deputized for Logan Ndenbe, who tore his ACL in the series-clinching 2-1 win over St. Louis City SC three weeks ago.

Sporting captain Johnny Russell manufactured the game’s first chance inside three minutes, gathering a loose ball 45 yards from goal and embarking on a mazy run down the right side before seeing his low drive saved by Houston goalkeeper Steve Clark.

On the opposite end, Dynamo winger Nelson Quinones was a nuisance for Sporting’s backline as the Colombian threatened three times in the space of a dozen minutes. His first long-range curler fizzed inches beyond the far post, while his second effort from similar distance was palmed away by outstretched Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia. Houston forward Corey Baird was on hand for the rebound, but his ensuing shot was blocked by retreating center back Andreu Fontas. Quinones then spurned a great chance in the 18th minute by dragging a turf-trimmer well wide.

Sporting responded with a pair of decent looks near the 25th minute. Midfielder Gadi Kinda, who on Tuesday scored for the Israel Men’s National Team in a Euro 2024 qualifier against Andorra, scooped up possession off a long Melia free kick, drove at the defense and unleashed a strike that deflected marginally wide off Houston midfielder Artur. Shortly thereafter, Sporting winger Daniel Salloi sent a swerving, 30-yard bomb just over the crossbar.

Houston drew first blood in the 39th minute off a Hector Herrera corner kick. The Mexican’s teasing delivery was nodded firmly into the left corner by Escobar, who bagged his fourth career postseason goal and gave Sporting its first deficit of the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Vermes’ side went agonizingly close to conjuring an instant response but had their bid for an equalizer thwarted in controversial fashion. Seconds after the restart, Alan Pulido slipped behind the Dynamo backline and forced a reflex save from Clark. Salloi smacked a first-time rebound effort goalward that appeared to carom off the arm of Dynamo defender Erik Sviatchenko, but referee Guido Gonzales Jr. waved play to resume. VAR Carol Anne Chenard checked the play afterward and deemed Sviatchenko’s intervention unworthy of a penalty kick, much to the chagrin of a Sporting side that entered halftime trailing 1-0.

Pulido tried his luck from long range on the hour mark, but his piledriver knuckled high of the target. Melia then spared Sporting’s blushes three minutes later, racing off his line to take the ball cleanly off the feet of Baird after the attacker was played through on goal.

The visitors were left ruing their luck in the 69th minute. Russell found space to cross from the left flank and found an unmarked Salloi, who took a settling touch near the penalty spot and laced a goal-bound shot that Clark did well to cast aside.

The game opened up in the late stages as Sporting pushed for a leveler. Russell was again the creator in the 82nd minute, flashing a low delivery into the six-yard area for Pulido, only for Dynamo center back Micael to slide in for a crucial intervention. Sporting veteran Graham Zusi, the club’s all-time leader in games played, made his first appearance since May 31 as an 84th-minute substitute and could have made an instant and dramatic impact upon his return, but his hopeful strike from the edge of the box was blocked through traffic. Not long later, Pulido pegged a shot wide off Salloi’s cross.

Sporting’s final opportunity fell to substitute Willy Agada in the 94th minute. After Salloi did well to find the Nigerian striker in the middle of the penalty area, Agada’s well-struck attempt was smothered on the doorstep by the sprawling Micael.

Houston could have added icing to the cake in the waning seconds, but Melia produced a sublime save to deny Ibrahim Aliyu on the final consequential play of the game.

Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs
Western Conference Semifinals
Shell Energy Stadium | Houston, Texas
Attendance: 20,319
Weather: 53 degrees and clear

Sporting Kansas City 0-1 Houston Dynamo FC
Sporting Kansas City
Houston Dynamo FC

Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Jake Davis (Graham Zusi 84'), Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas, Tim Leibold (Roger Espinoza 89'); Nemanja Radoja, Remi Walter (Willy Agada 84'), Gadi Kinda (Erik Thommy 70'); Johnny Russell (C), Alan Pulido, Daniel Salloi

Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Robert Castellanos, Felipe Hernandez, Khiry Shelton, Marinos Tzionis

Houston Dynamo FC: Steve Clark; Griffin Dorsey, Erik Sviatchenko, Micael, Franco Escobar; Artur, Hector Herrera (C); Coco Carrasquilla, Amine Bassi (Luis Caicedo 85'), Nelson Quinones (Brad Smith 77'); Corey Baird (Ibrahim Aliyu 77')

Subs Not Used: Andrew Tarbell, Teenage Hadebe, Daniel Steres, Ivan Franco, Sebastian Kowalczyk, Thor Ulfarsson

Scoring Summary:
HOU -- Franco Escobar 1 (Hector Herrera 2) 39'

Misconduct Summary:
HOU -- Coco Carrasquilla (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 68'
SKC -- Tim Leibold (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 78'

Match Statistics
Shots on Goal
Corner Kicks

Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
Assistant Referee: Ian McKay
Assistant Referee: Jeffrey Greeson
Fourth Official: Lukasz Szpala
VAR: Carol Anne Chenard
AVAR: Tom Supple