Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC scrapped their way to a scoreless draw on a blustery Friday night as both teams remained unbeaten through four games of the 2017 MLS season.
In a back-and-forth affair played before a national television audience on FS1, Sporting Kansas City (1-0-3, 6 points) extended its unbeaten streak against Toronto FC (1-0-3, 6 points) to eight matches and avoided defeat at BMO Field for the fourth successive time. A stout Sporting KC defensive effort gave goalkeeper Tim Melia his MLS-leading third shutout of the campaign and limited the defending Eastern Conference champions to just two shots on target in their highly anticipated home opener at the rain-soaked stadium.
Manager Peter Vermes made one change to the Sporting Kansas City lineup from a 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on March 18, inserting forward Soony Saad and dropping Jimmy Medranda to the midfield in place of Benny Feilhaber, who was rested for precautionary reasons after straining his thigh last week in training. Friday marked Medranda’s 50th appearance for the club in all competitions, while captain Matt Besler played his 204th regular season game to tie Jimmy Conrad for fifth-most in team history.
A delicately poised first half saw both sides threaten to open the scoring amidst wet conditions. The hosts caused the first scare in the 10th minute as wingback Steven Beitashour overlapped down the right flank and crossed low into a crowded penalty area, but the ball narrowly eluded the touch of Sebastian Giovinco, who was well positioned to back-heel the ball into an open net from six yards.
At the other end, Dom Dwyer asked questions of the Toronto defense when he drove toward goal and saw his left-footed blast blocked by a lunging Drew Moor in the 18th minute. Shortly thereafter, Giovinco spearheaded an incisive move down the left flank and teed up Jonathan Osorio with plenty of space atop the box, but the midfielder skied his attempt high and wide of Tim Melia’s goal.
Toronto FC carved out its next opportunity on the half-hour mark when Beitashour’s cutback pass along the right endline was perfectly weighted for Victor Vazquez, but the Spaniard lost his footing on the slick turf before he could pull the trigger.
Gerso was the catalyst for a positive Sporting KC response in the 36th minute, cutting into the middle from the right side and slipping an incisive through ball to Saad, whose shot from a tight angle was blocked by a sprawling Clint Irwin. The Toronto goalkeeper injured his left knee on the play, prompting Alex Bono to enter the match as his replacement.
Osorio was guilty of another missed chance just before intermission, chesting down Nick Hagglund’s cross from the right corner and skying high from 12 yards. On the brink of halftime, Graham Zusi’s long free kick into the box was cleared only as far as Saad, but his effort dragged wide of the target.
Melia wasn’t forced to make his first save until the 49th minute when Raheem Edwards’ innocuous shot was smothered following a quick break from Toronto. An interception from Gerso led to a glorious chance four minutes later, but Bono produced pivotal save to deny Dwyer his first goal of 2017.
The visitors had the crossbar to thank in the 59th minute for keeping the game goalless, as Giovinco’s 30-yard free kick bent over Sporting KC’s four-man wall and rattled the woodwork. The diminutive Italian was responsible for 70 combined goals and assists over the previous two seasons, but has yet to etch his name onto the scoresheet in three career appearances against Sporting KC.
A superb 40-yard run from Ilie kick-started Sporting KC’s attack in the 70th minute, as the Spaniard spread the ball wide left to Saad. The winger squared up his defender and then played diagonally to Gerso, whose stinging strike was palmed over the bar by Bono. Opara intervened resolutely in the few minutes that followed, first blocking a shot from Giovinco and then sliding to cut out Edwards’ low cross.
Despite defending for long periods of the match on Friday, Sporting Kansas City nearly snatched all three points in the game’s final moments. Late substitute Latif Blessing showcased his dazzling skill in the 88th minute, cutting past multiple defenders before having his low attempt saved.
Less than 60 seconds later, a deflected shot from Gerso gave Sporting KC a corner kick that almost resulted in the match-winner. Ilie’s wonderfully delivered corner kick skipped across the six-yard box and was nearly prodded home by Dwyer, but Edwards cleared the danger to keep the sides deadlocked.
Sporting Kansas City returns home next Sunday, April 9, to face the Colorado Rapids (1-1-1, 4 points) in a nationally televised clash at 6 p.m. CT on FS1. A limited number of tickets for the Western Conference matchup are available via SeatGeek.com as two MLS charter clubs renew their 21-year rivalry at state-of-the-art Children's Mercy Park.
2017 MLS Regular Season
Game 4 of 34
BMO Field | Toronto, Ontario
Weather: 39 degrees and rainy
|Sporting Kansas City (1-0-3, 6 points)||0||0||0|
|Toronto FC (1-0-3, 6 points)||0||0||0|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Jimmy Medranda (Soni Mustivar 65); Gerso, Dom Dwyer, Soony Saad (Latif Blessing 83)
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Kevin Ellis, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Daniel Salloi, Cameron Porter
Toronto FC: Clint Irwin (Alex Bono 40); Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund; Steven Beitashour, Jonathan Osorio (Armando Cooper 76), Michael Bradley (C), Victor Vazquez, Raheem Edwards; Tosaint Ricketts (Jozy Altidore 62), Sebastian Giovinco
Subs Not Used: Chris Mavinga, Benoit Cheyrou, Jay Chapman, Marco Delgado
|Shots on Goal||5||2|
SKC -- Ilie Sanchez (caution; unsporting behavior) 69
TOR -- Jozy Altidore (caution; unsporting behavior) 81
Referee: Alan Kelly
Assistant Referee: Matthew Nelson
Assistant Referee: Logan Brown
Fourth Official: Silviu Petrescu