Latif Blessing goal celebration - Sporting KC vs Chicago Fire - July 29, 2017
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Recap: Sporting KC edges Chicago Fire in 3-2 thriller to take first place in West

Sporting Kansas City surged back to the Western Conference summit in a wildly entertaining 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday night at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park.

Daniel Salloi and Benny Feilhaber struck first-half goals and Latif Blessing scored shortly after the restart as Sporting Kansas City (9-4-9, 36 points) pushed its club-record home unbeaten streak to 20 regular season matches — the sixth-longest run in MLS history — at the expense of a Chicago side (11-5-5, 38 points) that failed to win in its sixth straight visit to Kansas City.

An unfortunate own goal from Matt Besler and a late strike from David Accam gave Chicago a glimpse of hope in the dying embers of the evening, but Sporting Kansas City would hold on to claim victory in a five-goal thriller and avoid defeat for the 11th consecutive contest in all competitions.

Manager Peter Vermes made four changes from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake, deploying a bolstered back line that saw the return of captain Besler, fellow center back Ike Opara and right back Graham Zusi. Besler and Zusi were three days removed from starting for the U.S. Men’s National Team in a CONCACAF Gold Cup Final victory over Jamaica, while Opara bounced back from a concussion sustained on July 11. Up top, Salloi stepped in for Gerso, who served a one-game suspension issued midweek by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

Salloi jolted a lethargic battle to life with an electrifying run down the left side that culminated in the opening goal after 23 minutes. The Homegrown forward ran onto a stray backwards header from Chicago’s Dax McCarty and carried the ball more than 60 yards before cutting into the box and pulling the trigger with his right foot. The attempt deflected off the extended foot of German World Cup champion Bastian Schweinsteiger and carried into the back of the net for Salloi's fourth goal of 2017 in all competitions.

Chicago claimed a fortuitous equalizer just five minutes later when Matt Polster’s teasing cross from the right flank was sliced into the far corner of Tim Melia’s goal as Besler failed to make clean contact on an attempted clearance. The center back’s first career own goal came on the night of his 250th career start for Kansas City.

The hosts responded positively after the setback and retook the lead on the stroke of halftime. Zusi did wonderfully to beat Patrick Doody down the right side before clipping a pinpoint cross from the endline to Blessing. Chicago goalkeeper Matt Lampson produced a fine save to deny the diminutive Ghanaian, but Feilhaber — making his 175th regular season start in MLS — was positioned on the doorstep to perform an emphatic bicycle kick for his fourth goal of the campaign and his second in as many matches.

The Fire were pinned back in the early stages of the second period and succumbed to Sporting Kansas City’s pressure in the 51st minute following a brilliant buildup in the attacking third. Feilhaber’s through ball sprung Salloi free down the left side of the box, where the attacker exhibited poise in pulling the ball back for an open Diego Rubio. The Chilean then laced a shot through traffic that redirected off Blessing’s leg and into the far right corner of Lampson’s goal to ignite fervent celebrations throughout the stadium. Blessing tallied his third league goal on the play and his fifth in all competitions, while Rubio recorded his first career MLS assist.

Rubio and Salloi were at it again in the 59th minute, combining with a neat one-two on the edge of the penalty area before the latter’s side-footed effort went wide of the mark. Less than a minute later, Ilie headed Feilhaber’s in-swinging corner kick marginally off target.

Head coach Veljko Paunovic’s men gradually improved as the half wore on, threatening in the 69th minute when Melia was forced to tip Michael de Leeuw’s cross away from goal. Chicago wouldn’t be denied in its next dangerous attack, however, as Accam raced onto Doody’s low delivery and slotted home off the left post for his 12th goal of the year, marking the first time this season that Sporting Kansas City has conceded twice in a home game. Accam almost drew his side level three minutes later, but was unable to steer a header on frame.

Chicago striker Nemanja Nikolic sits atop the MLS scoring charts with 16 goals and nearly added to his impressive haul on three occasions within the final 10 minutes. He hammered narrowly high on two occasions and in the 85th minute was thwarted by Melia, whose phenomenal reflex save erased an opportunity created off Accam’s cross from the right endline.

Zusi tried his luck from distance twice in the final moments, unleashing a rocket that Lampson touched over the bar in the 87th minute before curling a free kick straight into the keeper’s hands in second-half stoppage time.

Sporting Kansas City will continue its three-game homestand next Sunday in the club’s inaugural match against expansion side Atlanta United FC (10-7-4, 34 points). The interconference clash at Children’s Mercy Park will be televised nationally on FS1 and FOX Deportes with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT. Tickets for the Military Appreciation Night fixture are available at SeatGeek.com

2017 MLS Regular Season
Game 22 of 34

Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 20,313 (98th straight sellout)
Weather: 79 degrees and sunny

Score 1 2 F
Sporting Kansas City (9-4-9, 36 points) 2 1 3
Chicago Fire (11-5-5, 38 points) 1 1 1

Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Benny Feilhaber (Erik Palmer-Brown 87), Latif Blessing (Jimmy Medranda 83), Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi (Cristian Lobato 73)
Subs Not Used: Andrew Dykstra, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Kevin Ellis, Soony Saad

Chicago Fire: Matt Lampson; Matt Polster, Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, Patrick Doody; Bastian Schweinsteiger (Jonathan Campbell 91+), Dax McCarty, Juninho (C) (Daniel Johnson (77); Luis Solignac (David Accam 55), Nemanja Nikolic, Michael de Leeuw
Subs Not Used: Stefan Cleveland, Michael Harrington, Djordje Mihailovic, Drew Conner

Stats SKC CHI
Shots 19 10
Shots on Goal 9 3
Saves 2 6
Fouls 8 10
Offsides 5 3
Corner Kicks 5 5

Misconduct Summary:
CHI -- Juninho (caution; unsporting behavior) 76
CHI -- Joao Meira (caution; unsporting behavior) 90

Scoring Summary:
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 2 (unassisted) 23
CHI -- Matt Besler (own goal) 28
SKC -- Benny Feilhaber 4 (unassisted) 46+
SKC -- Latif Blessing 3 (Diego Rubio 1, Daniel Salloi 2) 51
CHI -- David Accam 12 (Patrick Doody 1, Dax McCarty 4) 78

Referee: Alan Kelly
Assistant Referee: Eric Weisbrod
Assistant Referee: Mike Kampmeinert
Fourth Official: Alejandro Mariscal

Series: 
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