Beyond The Box Score: Subs spark stunning comeback as Sporting KC shakes Houston hex

They don't come in much more dramatic fashion than that.

Sporting Kansas City staged a stunning rally on Saturday night to knock off rivals Houston Dynamo in a 3-2 thriller at Children's Mercy Park, moving three points clear at the top of the Western Conference in the process.

The likelihood of such a result looked decisively slim through 45 minutes, as a first-half brace from Mauro Manotas had given the Dynamo a deserved 2-0 advantage. But oh, how the script was flipped in the second stanza.

Manager Peter Vermes' dressing room remarks at halftime — presumptuously delivered with no shortage of fervor — got the attention of his players, who looked like an entirely different team after the restart. Sporting KC received a lifeline courtesy of Daniel Salloi’s 59th-minute tally before substitutes Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton struck in the final five minutes to give Sporting KC all three points in an unforgettable battle between bitter rivals.

Saturday's barnburner marked the sixth time in Sporting KC history that the club has come from two goals down to win an MLS match in regulation, and just the second time during the Children's Mercy Park era. The dramatic turnaround came with a rather telling statistic. In the first half, Sporting KC was outshot 13-7 and put zero shots on target. In the second half, Sporting KC outshot the Dynamo 15-4 and finished with nine shots on frame.


Date Opponent Trailed Result
05/02/1996 vs. Columbus Crew SC 2-4 W 6-4
07/14/2001 vs. FC Dallas 0-2 W 3-2
05/26/2007 at New England Revolution 0-2, 1-3 W 4-3
09/22/2010 vs. Houston Dynamo 0-2, 1-3 W 4-3
08/15/2015 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 0-2, 1-3 W 4-3
06/23/2018 vs. Houston Dynamo 0-2 W 3-2

"It was completely two different games from one half to the other," Vermes said postgame. "The first half we were non-committal and we were playing backwards the whole time. We allowed them to dictate the tempo of the game and in the second half, we pushed the game. We took it to another level. We dictated the game and we pushed forward. The opportunities were created because of our mentality to go forward, our mentality to get in the box, and our ability to finish and play through teams if we want to."

Vermes made two substitutions in the late stages on Saturday, both of whom delivered heroic cameos as vital contributors to the fightback. Rubio's impact was instant, as a mere 23 seconds elapsed between his introduction and his equalizing strike in the 85th minute.

Shelton, who entered in the 76th minute, slammed home the game-winner 12 minutes later to cap a pulsating triumph and give Sporting KC eight goals from substitutes during the 2018 MLS campaign. That's an all-time club record and Kansas City's second-most in a season across all competitions. Considering the fact that is Sporting KC is less than halfway through 2018, the unparalleled productivity from its substitutes is even more astonishing.


Year MLS USOC CCL Playoffs Total
2002 3 3 4 10
2018 8 1 0 0 9
2005 7 2 0 0 9
2007 7 1 0 0 8
2014 6 1 1 0 8
2004 6 2 0 0 8
2003 7 0 0 0 7
2008 3 4 0 0 7

"We are able to bring players in that could change the outcome of the game by their impact," Vermes said. "It’s a credit to the staff for finding guys who we think can do it, and it’s a credit to the guys who are actually doing it, because it doesn’t always happen that way."

Special recognition goes to Rubio, who in a game-changing five-minute appearance off the bench became just the fifth Sporting KC substitute to notch a goal and an assist in a regular season fixture. The most recent player to do so was Jacob Peterson, who helped spark a 2-1 home win over Orlando City SC on May 15, 2016.


Player Date Goals + Assists Entered match
Chris Klein 07/22/1999 2 goals, 1 assist 46th minute
Francisco Gomez 10/04/2003 1 goal, 1 assist 76th minute
Jack Jewsbury 07/24/2004 1 goal, 1 assist 54th minute
Jacob Peterson 05/15/2015 1 goal, 1 assist 69th minute
Diego Rubio 06/23/2018 1 goal, 1 assist 85th minute

Remarkably, Saturday's result gave Sporting KC their first home win over the Dynamo since 2011. It also snapped an eight-game winless run in the regular season series that dated back to 2014.

Houston had managed a win and six draws over their previous seven regular season trips to Children's Mercy Park, and looked destined to extend that unbeaten run after going two goals to the good. Sporting KC, of course, had different ideas and finally exorcised their Dynamo demons.

""They were dead and we gave them life. We gave them opportunities," Houston head coach Wilmer Cabrera said. "Throughout 80 minutes, it was very tough for them to create options. The last 10 minutes it was like a door opens and they went through the middle so easy with more defenders.

"We let them come back after they were thoroughly dead and lost. We had the game and we just let it go through our hands."


Games Opponent Record Started Ended
7 Houston Dynamo 0-1-6 07/07/2012 06/23/2018
6 D.C. United
Chicago Fire
5 New York Red Bulls 0-2-3 08/26/2012 05/03/2017

Rubio’s leveler and Shelton’s winner helped extend Sporting KC’s unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions and gave the side a three-point cushion at the top of the Western Conference standings, one point behind Supporters’ Shield leaders Atlanta United FC. That nine-game streak is tied for the sixth-longest in club history, four matches shy of equaling the record set in both 2012 and 2017.

"I’m ecstatic with the three points," said Sporting KC and MLS debutant Graham Smith, the 22-year-old defender who logged a 90-minute shift alongside Ike Opara in central defense. "It shows the resilience of the group. We fought back. I don’t think there was ever a doubt in anybody’s mind that we were going to come out of here with three points. Unreal feeling right now."


Matches Dates
13 08/04/12 to 10/24/12
06/03/17 to 08/09/17
12 03/25/00 to 05/27/00
05/25/11 to 07/09/11
10 06/05/04 to 07/24/04
9 08/23/00 to 09/29/00
05/05/18 to present
8 06/21/08 to 07/27/08
04/25/15 to 06/16/15

Vermes’ men will ride a wave of momentum into next weekend as the club ventures north of the border to face the Montreal Impact (6-11-0, 18 points) at Stade Saputo. The cross-conference clash will kick off at 6 p.m. CT Saturday on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest.