Sporting Kansas City struck twice in final 10 minutes to earn a remarkable 4-3 victory over the Chicago Fire in a thrilling encounter at Toyota Park on Saturday night.
Midfielder Felipe Gutierrez bagged his second goal of the game in the 86th minute to complete the comeback after Jimmy Medranda had pulled Sporting KC (1-1-0, 3 points) level three minutes earlier. First-half strikes from Gutierrez and fellow newcomer Johnny Russell had given the visitors a two-goal advantage going into halftime, but the Fire (0-1-0, 0 points) responded with a furious rally of their own, tallying three goals in the space of 12 second-half minutes before relinquishing their lead.
Saturday’s instant classic gave Sporting KC their fifth win in 25 regular-season visits to Chicago, snapping a three-game losing skid at Toyota Park in the process. The offensive explosion also marked the first time since August 2015 that Sporting KC had scored four goals in a regular season match and the first time since October 2016 that Manager Peter Vermes’ men had conceded three goals in a regular season fixture.
Vermes shuffled his starting lineup to the tune of three changes from last Sunday’s season-opening defeat to New York City FC. Veteran left back Seth Sinovic replaced Cristian Lobato, winger Daniel Salloi stepped in for Yohan Croizet, and center forward Diego Rubio made way for Sporting KC debutant Khiry Shelton. Captain Matt Besler, meanwhile, reached a significant milestone as the third player in Kansas City history to log 20,000 regular-season minutes for the club.
The visitors had failed to score in Week 1 but jumped out to a dream start on Saturday when Gutierrez nodded Sporting KC ahead. Besler kick-started the attack with a long diagonal pass to Graham Zusi, who played Russell through on goal with an incisive layoff. Russell’s close-range effort was smothered by Chicago goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, but the rebound fell invitingly to Gutierrez near the edge of the box. The Chilean international’s cushioned header nestled into a gaping net to give his team its first goal of the 2018 MLS campaign.
Russell was next to threaten in the 18th minute, marauding into the box from the left wing and firing a shot that forced defender Johan Kappelhof into a sliding block. At the opposite end, Chicago’s lone threat of the first half saw Aleksandar Katai’s dangerous cross narrowly elude the extended foot of Nemanja Nikolic, who was the 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner with 24 goals last season.
Sporting KC continued to control proceedings as the half unfolded, holding Chicago to a single shot attempt over the course of the first stanza, and their dominance was rewarded again in the 44th minute. Roger Espinoza sprung Salloi free down the left channel, allowing the 21-year-old to exploit space and deliver a cutback pass near the byline. Russell was on hand to lash home from 12 yards to join Gutierrez in netting his maiden MLS goal.
Chicago had been second-best for the first 45 minutes but responded positively after the restart, nearly cutting the deficit in half when Katai’s teasing ball to the far right post was headed wide by Luis Solignac from just five yards out.
The Toyota Park crowd was then left in frustrated disbelief in the 62nd minute as Zusi denied Chicago their first goal in dramatic fashion. Luis Solignac’s low drive from a tight angle deflected off Besler and was saved by Tim Melia, bounding kindly to Nikolic, but Zusi was stationed on the goal line to clear the striker’s attempt.
The near miss had nonetheless shifted momentum in Chicago’s favor, and the Fire would strike three times in quick succession to take the lead. A clever move from German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger gave the midfielder space to clip a cross into the middle for Katai, who steered a header past Melia in the 70th minute to mark his MLS debut with a goal.
Four minutes later, Melia did wonderfully to turn away midfielder Dax McCarty’s header off a corner kick, but Nikolic was in the right place at the right time to supply a simple finish and open his 2018 scoring account. The Hungarian doubled his tally and pushed Chicago ahead in the 82nd minute on a well-worked attack from the hosts. Matt Polster’s looping ball to the back post was volleyed back across the face of goal by Brandon Vincent and prodded low into the corner by Nikolic, putting Sporting KC behind the proverbial eight-ball.
The 3-2 scoreline lasted a mere 60 seconds. Espinoza’s low delivery into the box skipped through traffic and was palmed away by Sanchez only as far as Medranda, who slotted high into the roof of the net from 15 yards to bring Sporting KC level once more.
The 83rd-minute equalizer set the stage for a pulsating final chapter in a terrific battle between the regional rivals. Russell proved to be the catalyst for the match winner, beating multiple defenders on a lung-busting, 50-yard run into the box before squaring to Salloi near the penalty spot. The homegrown forward took a composed touch and back-heeled the ball to Gerso Fernandes, who let it run through his legs and roll to Gutierrez for a one-time piledriver past Sanchez. The stunning goal ignited wild celebrations among Sporting KC’s 350 traveling supporters and was ultimately enough to seal all three points on a frigid evening in Bridgeview.
Sporting KC returns to the friendly confines of Children’s Mercy Park next Saturday for a St. Patrick’s Day showdown with the San Jose Earthquakes (1-0-0, 3 points). Tickets for the contest are available at SeatGeek.com with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.
2018 MLS Regular Season
Game 2 of 34
Toyota Park | Bridgeview, Illinois
Weather: 37 degrees and partly cloudy
|Sporting Kansas City (1-1-0, 3 points)||2||2||4|
|Chicago Fire (0-1-0, 0 points)||0||3||3|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic (Jimmy Medranda 69); Felipe Gutierrez, Ilie, Roger Espinoza; Johnny Russell (Yohan Croizet 93+), Khiry Shelton (Gerso Fernandes 55), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Emiliano Amor, Jaylin Lindsey, Cristian Lobato
Chicago Fire: Richard Sanchez; Matt Polster (Jorge Corrales 93+), Johan Kappelhof, Christian Dean (Elliot Collier 88), Brandon Vincent; Dax McCarty (C), Tony Tchani, Luis Solignac, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Aleksandar Katai (Kevin Ellis 85); Nemanja Nikolic
Subs Not Used: Stefan Cleveland, Mohammed Adams, Brandt Bronico, Jon Bakero
SKC -- Felipe Gutierrez 1 (unassisted) 9
SKC -- Johnny Russell 1 (Daniel Salloi 1, Roger Espinoza 1) 44
CHI -- Aleksandar Katai 1 (Bastian Schweinsteiger 1) 70
CHI -- Nemanja Nikolic 1 (unassisted) 74
CHI -- Nemanja Nikolic 2 (Brandon Vincent 1, Matt Polster 1) 82
SKC -- Jimmy Medranda 1 (unassisted) 83
SKC -- Felipe Gutierrez 2 (Daniel Salloi 2, Johnny Russell 1) 86
SKC -- Tim Melia (yellow card; time wasting) 33
CHI -- Johan Kappelhof (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 36
CHI -- Bastian Schweinsteiger (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 50
SKC -- Ilie (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 56
|Shots on Goal||8||6|
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Assistant Referee: Jeremy Hanson
Assistant Referee: Logan Brown
Fourth Official: Fotis Bazakos
VAR: David Gantar