Johnny Russell and Willy Agada scored during a wild first half as 10-man Sporting Kansas City (10-13-8, 38 points) earned a crucial 2-1 home win over Houston Dynamo FC (12-11-7, 43 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
Russell fired Sporting ahead early before receiving a straight red card in the 39th minute, reducing the hosts to 10 men for the remainder of a hotly contested battle between Western Conference rivals. Despite the numerical disadvantage, Sporting went ahead 2-0 on a timely Agada strike in first-half added time. Houston would grab a goal back on the cusp of intermission through Teenage Hadebe, but Sporting’s spirited resolve was enough to secure three precious points in the club’s late-season playoff push.
Saturday’s result—which gave goalkeeper Tim Melia his 100th career win for Kansas City in MLS competitions—leaves 10th-place Sporting one point out of the ninth and final playoff spot in the West with three regular season matches remaining. Manager Peter Vermes’ side will now prepare for an all-important rivalry rubber match against Western Conference leaders St. Louis City SC (16-10-5, 53 points) next Saturday at Citypark in St. Louis, Missouri. The contest will kick off at 7:30 p.m. CT with free streaming on Apple TV.
Vermes made three changes to Sporting’s starting lineup from a home loss to Nashville SC just 72 hours earlier. Designated Player Gadi Kinda and winger Khiry Shelton earned their first starts since Leagues Cup, replacing Remi Walter and Daniel Salloi, respectively, while Agada logged his first start since undergoing surgery in April to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia. Agada relieved star forward Alan Pulido, who missed out with a quad contusion suffered on Wednesday.
Utter madness characterized a first half that featured three goals, a controversial red card, two video reviews, three woodwork peltings and a dozen minutes of stoppage time. The upstart hosts seized early attacking initiative and won a penalty kick inside the first five minutes, paving the way for Russell to bag the go-ahead goal. Left back Logan Ndenbe’s searching cross from the left wing was met on the opposite side of the boxy by Erik Thommy, whose sweetly struck volley deflected off the arm of Houston defender Brad Smith and required a save from goalkeeper Steve Clark.
Referee Chris Penso did not initially reward Sporting with a penalty, but VAR intervened and Penso promptly pointed to the spot. Russell delivered from there, sending Clark the wrong way by slotting low into the right corner for his fifth goal of the campaign. The heralded Sporting captain, who has eight career goals against Houston in all competitions, has become the fourth MLS player to bag five goals in every regular season since 2018.
Hungry for more, Sporting remained on the hunt and almost doubled their lead in the 16th minute when Shelton’s clever cutback near the endline was hammered over the bar by Agada. Shortly thereafter, Thommy saw another splendid volley attempt go begging as the German’s 25-yard wurlitzer pinged off the left post.
Houston went worryingly close two minutes later on the opposite end of the pitch. Midfielder Luis Caicedo was afforded space at the top of the box and unleashed a 22-yard screamer that smacked off goalkeeper Tim Melia’s left-hand post and skipped out of play. Sporting then had the crossbar to thank in the 25th minute as Nelson Quinones’ attempted cross from the right flank carried goalward, dipped over Melia and struck the woodwork.
Melia stayed busy and produced a smart save at the 30-minute mark, palming away a shot from Houston right back Franco Escobar. Sporting’s veteran gloveman did equally well to keep out a low drive from Hector Herrera in the first minute of first-half added time, shortly before the Mexican international dragged a right-footed shot inches wide at the top of the box.
A disputable red card brandished to Russell flipped the game on its head. The Sporting captain was unpunished during the run of play for a sliding challenge on Quinones near the midfield sideline, but VAR summoned Penso to take a second look at the tackle. The referee then gave Russell his marching orders, much to the chagrin of the boisterous Children’s Mercy Park faithful.
Unphased by Penso’s decision, Sporting went on the attack as Shelton settled a long ball over the top and forced an impressive save from Clark. Shelton was involved again in the sixth minute of first-half stoppage time when Agada gave his team a 2-0 cushion, swinging a low cross into the mixer for Thommy. Although the midfielder’s first-time effort was blocked, the ball bounced fortuitously to the feet of Agada, the Nigerian striker who coolly slotted home for his ninth goal in as many career starts at Children’s Mercy Park.
As if the first half had not provided enough flashbulb moments, Houston cut the score to 2-1 in the ninth minute of added time. Amidst a chaotic scramble on the edge of the six-yard area, Ethan Bartlow cushioned the ball to fellow center back Hadebe, whose ruthless finish caromed off the crossbar and into the net for his first goal of the campaign.
Though the second stanza was not as frantic as the first, it lacked no intensity. Sporting continued to ask questions of the Dynamo defense and almost restored their two-goal lead in the 51st minute. Right back Jake Davis, making his 20th straight start in all competitions, galloped forward and played a clever ball into the path of Thommy, whose low strike fizzed across Clark and inches wide of the far post.
Melia was called into action twice near the hour mark, dropping low to swallow a seething 35-yard free kick from Herrera and smothering a near-post effort from substitute Corey Baird.
Salloi had started in each of Sporting’s first 30 MLS matches of the season prior to Saturday but reversed his role this time around. The second-half sub nearly set up his team’s third goal in the 73rd minute, firing off a low cross that center back Dany Rosero nearly steered home after Houston had failed to clear Thommy’s corner kick. Not long later, Salloi received a teasing cross from Ndenbe, swiveled at the penalty spot and unfurled a daisy-cutter that missed by the slimmest of margins.
Houston’s final roll of the dice could have resulted in a 94th-minute equalizer if not for Melia’s heroic, season-saving stop to deny Baird. The Dynamo broke quickly into Sporting’s attacking third and Ivan Franco slipped a pinpoint cross in behind for the on-running Baird, but Melia stuck out a foot to repel the first-time strike and preserve Sporting’s 2-1 lead to the final whistle.
With three huge points in the bag, Sporting is now 8-0-2 in games following losses across all competitions since April. The team is also is 4-0-2 in its last six regular season meetings against Houston since 2021 and 9-3-3 in its last 15 against the Dynamo since 2018.
2023 MLS Regular Season | Match 31
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 73 degrees and clear
Sporting Kansas City (10-13-8, 38 points)
Houston Dynamo FC (12-11-7, 43 points)
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Jake Davis, Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas, Logan Ndenbe; Nemanja Radoja (Roger Espinoza 62'), Erik Thommy (Felipe Gutierrez 86'), Gadi Kinda (Daniel Salloi 62'); Khiry Shelton, Willy Agada (Remi Walter 46'), Johnny Russell (C)
Subs Not Used: Kendall McIntosh, Robert Castellanos, Robert Voloder, Graham Zusi, Marinos Tzionis
Houston Dynamo FC: Steve Clark; Franco Escobar, Ethan Bartlow, Teenage Hadebe (Micael 46'), Brad Smith; Luis Caicedo, Hector Herrera (C) (Ivan Franco 76'); Nelson Quinones (Corey Baird 46'), Coco Carrasquilla, Sebastian Kowalczyk (Artur 60'); Ibrahim Aliyu (Griffin Dorsey 70')
Subs Not Used: Andrew Tarbell, Daniel Steres, Erik Sviatchenko, Brooklyn Raines
SKC -- Johnny Russell 5 (penalty kick) 7'
SKC -- Willy Agada 2 (unassisted) 45+6'
HOU -- Teenage Hadebe 1 (Ethan Bartlow 1) 45+9'
SKC -- Nemanja Radoja (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 34'
SKC -- Johnny Russell (red card; serious foul play) 39'
HOU -- Franco Escobar (yellow card; dissent) 45+1'
SKC -- Erik Thommy (yellow card; time wasting) 73'
HOU -- Griffin Dorsey (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 74'
HOU -- Luis Caicedo (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 83'
SKC -- Dany Rosero (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 88'
SKC -- Daniel Salloi (yellow card; dissent) 90+6'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Chris Penso
Assistant Referee: Cameron Blanchard
Assistant Referee: Chris Wattam
Fourth Official: Ramy Touchan
VAR: Daniel Radford
AVAR: Nick Uranga