Sporting Kansas City went three points clear atop the Western Conference standings with a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United FC on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Benny Feilhaber came off the bench and buried a 59th-minute penalty kick to give Sporting Kansas City the advantage, but fellow substitute Jacob Peterson denied his former club a victory by scoring in second-half stoppage time as Atlanta rescued an unlikely point.
The result extends long-running unbeaten streaks for both sides: Sporting Kansas City (9-4-10, 37 points) has now gone 12 straight games in all competitions without a loss while pushing their club-record home undefeated run to 21 regular season matches, while Atlanta (10-7-5, 35 points) avoided defeat in their sixth straight league fixture and kept hold of fifth place in the East.
With a pivotal Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal looming on Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes, Manager Peter Vermes made three changes to Sporting Kansas City’s lineup from last weekend’s 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire. Right back Saad Abdul-Salaam filled in for MLS All-Star Graham Zusi, midfielder Cristian Lobato earned his first start in place of Feilhaber, and Diego Rubio dropped to the bench with Gerso returning from suspension to join Latif Blessing and Daniel Salloi in a three-man attack.
A pedestrian first half kicked into gear near the half-hour mark when Roger Espinoza picked up a loose ball and slid a decadent pass down the right channel for Gerso, who cut centrally and pulled the trigger from the edge of the box. The ball would strike the hand of Atlanta defender Mikey Ambrose in the penalty area, but referee Chris Penso waved play to resume.
The hosts continued to grow into the game as Gerso lashed a long-range effort wide before Espinoza prompted Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan into his first save with a 25-yard drive from a central position.
For the first time this season, Atlanta failed to record a single shot attempt in the first half. The visitors’ best look of goal before intermission came in the 36th minute when Julian Gressel’s 30-yard missile swerved beyond of goalkeeper Tim Melia’s left-hand post. At the opposite end, Ilie rose above the rest to nod Gerso’s in-swinging free kick marginally off target.
Melia was summoned to make his only save of the evening in the 50th minute, diving low to his right to push Jeff Larentowicz’s fierce blast wide of goal. Two minutes later, Gerso bent a free kick over Atlanta’s four-man wall and a yard high of the crossbar.
Blessing did well to win Sporting Kansas City’s spot kick in the 57th minute, demonstrating hustle to keep possession alive before being chopped to the turf by Atlanta defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Feilhaber made no mistake on the ensuing penalty, slotting low into the left corner to tally his fifth goal of the year. The midfielder has now scored in three straight regular season matches for the first time in his MLS career, having converted a PK at Real Salt Lake on July 22 and a bicycle kick against Chicago last Saturday.
Momentum had firmly swung in Sporting Kansas City’s favor, and Salloi almost doubled the lead on 60 minutes when he pounced on a turnover and fired a bullet straight at Guzan. Nearly 20 minutes later, Feilhaber’s venomous strike was deflected high into the air and landed onto the foot of Blessing, who went down under Ambrose’s challenge before Atlanta scrambled to clear out of its own box.
Gerso spurned a glorious opportunity to seal a victory in the 82nd minute, sprinting onto Espinoza’s delightful through ball before slicing a shot wide on the breakaway.
Atlanta salvaged its equalizer in the 91st minute when Michael Parkhurst’s long diagonal ball into a crowded penalty caromed off multiple bodies before falling kindly to Peterson, who finished neatly into the low, left corner to mark his first appearance since March 31 with his second goal of 2017. Peterson spent the previous five seasons in Kansas City, where he notched 15 goals and 10 assists across 135 games in all competitions.
Sporting Kansas City will now have two days’ rest before returning to Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday for a U.S. Open Cup semifinal showdown with San Jose. Tickets for the all-important match are available at SeatGeek.com as Vermes’ men continue their pursuit of the club’s fourth Open Cup title against an Earthquakes outfit that has yet to win the prestigious tournament.
2017 MLS Regular Season
Game 23 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 19,418 (99th straight sellout)
Weather: 73 degrees and cloudy
|Sporting Kansas City (9-4-10, 37 points)||0||1||1|
|Atlanta United FC (10-7-5, 35 points)||0||1||1|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Cristian Lobato (Benny Feilhaber HT); Gerso (Jimmy Medranda 83), Latif Blessing, Daniel Salloi (Diego Rubio 71)
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Kevin Ellis, Graham Zusi, Soony Saad
Atlanta United FC: Brad Guzan; Anton Walkes, Michael Parkhurst (C), Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Mikey Ambrose; Jeff Larentowicz (Chris McCann 71), Carlos Carmona, Julian Gressel (Jacob Peterson 67), Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad; Hector Villalba (Brandon Vazquez 83)
Subs Not Used: Kyle Reynish, Tyrone Mears, Kevin Kratz, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
|Shots on Goal||3||2|
ATL -- Jeff Larentowicz (caution; unsporting behavior) 21
ATL -- Carlos Carmona (caution; unsporting behavior) 24
SKC -- Ike Opara (caution; unsporting behavior) 27
ATL -- Yamil Asad (caution; unsporting behavior) 51
ATL -- Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (caution; dissent) 61
ATL -- Mikey Ambrose (caution; unsporting behavior) 77
SKC -- Benny Feilhaber 5 (penalty kick) 59
ATL -- Jacob Peterson 2 (unassisted) 91+
Referee: Chris Penso
Assistant Referee: Cameron Blanchard
Assistant Referee: Corey Rockwell
Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica
VAR: Juan Guzman Jr.