Sporting Kansas City came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at Central FC in the club’s opening match of the 2016-17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League group stage at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago.
Defenders Seth Sinovic and Kevin Ellis bookended the scoring with their first goals of the season, while Marcus Joseph and Kenwyne Jones struck for the Sharks in a match that was scoreless at halftime but burst to life in the final 45 minutes. The result leaves Sporting Kansas City in second place in Group C, two points behind Vancouver Whitecaps FC with three group stage matches still to play.
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TICKETS: Click here to purchase tickets to Sporting KC's two CONCACAF Champions League group stage matches at Children's Mercy Park.
Right back Saad Abdul-Salaam was the only player to retain his spot in Sporting Kansas City's starting XI from Saturday's a 2-2 draw at FC Dallas. The reshuffled lineup included a Sporting Kansas City debut for 21-year-old center back Amer Didic, who has played 21 matches this season for USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers. Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar returned from one-game suspensions to join Paulo Nagamura in the midfield, while Diego Rubio was flanked by Brad Davis and Connor Hallisey in a three-pronged attack. Between the posts, homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin earned his first Sporting KC appearance of 2016.
Kempin was called to action just two minutes into the match when target forward Jones got behind the Sporting Kansas City backline. The English Premier League veteran — on loan from 2017 MLS expansion side Atlanta United FC — put his subsequent strike on target, but Kempin reacted low to his left to make the stop.
The visitors responded with their first clear chance in the 12th minute. An extended spell of possession culminated with Espinoza feeding Hallisey into space on the left side of the box, but his venomous blast rattled the near post before caroming into the side netting and out of play.
The same duo combined in the 28th minute as Hallisey picked out Espinoza on the edge of the penalty area. The Honduran international pulled the trigger from 18 yards, forcing goalkeeper Javon Sample into his first of six saves on the evening.
Central FC threatened twice in the late stages of the first period. Joseph could only steer his low shot wide of Kempin’s lefthand post before Jones’ headed goal off an in-swinging free kick was disallowed after he clattered into Kempin on the edge of the six-yard box.
A pulsating second half saw both sides bag two goals, though Sporting Kansas City would dominate the final 20 minutes in search of a winner. The scoring opened in the 51st minute through Sinovic, who netted his third career goal in Sporting KC colors. Davis’ free kick from 25 yards struck the Central FC wall, but the midfielder kept the ball alive by lofting it to the far post. Sinovic was on hand to poke a deflected effort past Sample and give his side the lead.
The hosts responded with a vengeance, landing two punches within two minutes. Kempin made an initial save on Sean De Silva’s snapshot in the 54th minute, but Joseph pounced on the loose ball to rifle home from a tight angle on the right side of the penalty box. Jones then gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead after overlapping Joseph, receiving a perfectly weighted pass and firing just inside the near post to mark his Central FC debut with a goal.
Sporting Kansas City controlled the final half-hour and nearly equalized through Paulo Nagamura in the 65th minute, only for his right-footed rocket to find the outside of the netting from an acute angle in a crowded box. Left back Ever Alvarado made his Sporting Kansas City debut a minute later, replacing Sinovic after the goal scorer rolled his ankle in a divot a yard beyond the playing field.
Parity was restored once again in the 70th minute when Davis slipped an incisive through ball to Ellis, who had advanced upfield for a set piece less than a minute earlier. The homegrown center back cooly rounded the keeper before slotting into the net for his second career goal in the CONCACAF Champions League and his the seventh for Sporting KC in all competitions.
Desperately seeking a third, Sporting Kansas City took a stranglehold of the affair in the waning embers of the clash. Sample denied two players in quick succession with 15 minutes remaining, cleanly catching Rubio’s volley before pushing Davis’ well-hit strike wide of goal.
Central FC was pinned into its own box and would weather multiple waves of pressure in the final five minutes. An intricate buildup from Sporting KC in the 86th minute gave Rubio a good look at goal, but his low drive deflected through Sample’s legs and wide of the near post. Substitute Cameron Porter connected with Alvarado’s looping cross three minutes later, but the header lacked the pace and direction to beat the keeper. Sample may have saved his best save for last, springing at full extension to touch Nuno Coelho’s thunderous attempt just over the crossbar in the final minute of regulation.
Sporting Kansas City will now travel 2,800 miles back home ahead of Saturday's MLS regular season match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. CT and a limited number of tickets for the all-important battle are still available via Ticketmaster.com.
Sporting KC (10-11-5, 35 points) is currently fifth in the Western Conference, five points ahead of eighth-place Vancouver (8-11-6, 30 points) and four points clear in the playoff race. Ticket holders are encouraged to arrive to the stadium early, as a variety of pregame festivities are scheduled before kickoff.
2016-17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League
Group Stage: Game 1 of 4
Ato Boldon Stadium | Couva, Trinidad and Tobago
Weather: 86 degrees and clear
|Sporting Kansas City (0-0-1, 1 pt)||0||2||2|
|Central FC (0-0-1, 1 pt)||0||2||2|
Sporting Kansas City: Jon Kempin; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Amer Didic*, Kevin Ellis, Seth Sinovic (Ever Alvarado 66); Paulo Nagamura (Nuno Coelho 67), Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza (C); Brad Davis, Diego Rubio, Connor Hallisey (Cameron Porter 81)
Subs Not Used: Alec Kann, Lawrence Olum, Emmanuel Appiah, Tyler Pasher*
Central FC: Javon Sample; Elton John, Andre Ettienne, Keion Goodridge (Kaydion Gabriel 81), Kevon Villaroel; Nathaniel Garcia, Leston Paul, Marcus Joseph, Sean De Silva (Jason Marcano 76), Darren Mitchell (Keron Cummings 53); Kenwyne Jones (C)
Subs Not Used: Akel Clarke, Nicholas Dillon, Jem Gordon, Johan Peltier
|Shots on Goal||9||5|
CFC -- Andre Ettienne (caution; dissent) 50
SKC -- Seth Sinovic 1 (unassisted) 51
CFC -- Marcus Joseph 1 (Sean De Silva 1) 54
CFC -- Kenwyne Jones 1 (Marcus Joseph 1) 56
SKC -- Kevin Ellis 1 (Brad Davis 1) 70