Johnny Russell bagged a sensational late equalizer on Saturday night as Sporting Kansas City clawed back to earn a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy and clinch a berth in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
A hotly contested encounter at rain-soaked Children’s Mercy Park saw the Galaxy (12-11-9, 45 points) surge ahead on a 25th-minute penalty kick from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Russell’s dazzling solo effort in the 83rd minute restored parity and gave Sporting KC (15-8-8, 53 points) the requisite point to seal a club-record eighth straight playoff appearance.
Saturday’s result leaves Sporting KC tied for second place in the Western Conference with LAFC, four points behind leaders FC Dallas. Seventh-place LA, meanwhile, drew within a point of Real Salt Lake for the sixth and final playoff spot in the West.
PLAYOFF TICKETS: Tickets for Sporting KC’s first potential home playoff match at Children’s Mercy Park are now on sale via SeatGeek.com. Sporting KC Season Ticket Members will automatically retain their seats for all playoff matches, excluding the MLS Cup final, and can contact their Client Services Executive for questions and further information. If Sporting KC does not host a match in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, all individuals who purchased tickets through SeatGeek will be automatically refunded.
In addition to punching their ticket to the 2018 postseason, Sporting KC tied a regular-season club record with 34 shot attempts and extended their unbeaten run against LA to eight matches. The Galaxy are now 0-4-4 all-time at Children’s Mercy Park and 0-5-6 in Kansas City dating back to 2008.
The hosts dominated for extended periods amidst a steady downpour on Saturday evening, but the Galaxy would land the first punch from the penalty spot. LA forward Ola Kamara latched onto a low cross from Romain Alessandrini and toppled to the turf under minimal contact from Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia and defender Matt Besler, but referee Jair Marrufo nonetheless pointed to the spot. Ibrahimovic smashed his ensuing attempt into the left corner for his 21st goal of the season, second-most in MLS.
Galaxy keeper David Bingham produced eight saves on the night, and his best stop of the first half came after 32 minutes when he dove at full extension to palm Daniel Salloi’s sweetly struck curler wide of the post. Three minutes later, Russell embarked on a rampant run down the right side, beating defender Ashley Cole and rounding Bingham only to see his shot blocked in a crowded penalty area.
Gasps of disbelief enveloped Children’s Mercy Park when Graham Zusi, Diego Rubio and Felipe Gutierrez exchanged passes in the box before the ball popped goalward, forcing Bingham into another acrobatic save. Seconds later, the Galaxy gloveman cast aside a deflected effort from Seth Sinovic to preserve his team’s advantage.
Melia finished with two saves of his own, the most important of which coming in first-half stoppage time when he leaped to parry Cole’s chip shot over the bar. The Galaxy thought they had doubled their lead on the stroke of intermission when Daniel Steres nodded home following a corner kick, but Video Assistant Referee Caleb Mendez prompted a review of the play. Marrufo deemed Steres to be in an offside position and the goal was disallowed.
An explosive and fiery second half would unfold, marked by Sporting KC dominance and one-way traffic in LA’s defensive half. Rubio went agonizingly close to drawing his side level in the 62nd minute, but his glancing header off a Russell cross was touched onto the post by Bingham and caromed back across the face of goal. Salloi kept possession and played back to Rubio, whose strike blazed wide. Rubio again narrowly missed the target shortly thereafter, firing high from a Roger Espinoza layoff.
Bingham thwarted Rubio and Russell with a fine double-save in the 79th minute as Sporting KC’s ceaseless assault continued, but the bid for a deserved equalizer was finally rewarded with seven minutes remaining. Russell took a pass from Zusi on the right side of the field and left multiple LA defenders in the dust before curling a brilliant strike into the far left corner for his team-best ninth MLS goal of the season and is 11th in all competitions.
Zusi almost went from provider to scorer in the 89th minute, but his left-footed drive pinged off the post with Bingham firmly beaten. Deep into second-half stoppage time, Steres cleared Rubio’s looping header off the goal line in what became the final notable play of a dramatic night in Kansas City, Kansas.
With a playoff spot secured, Sporting KC will now battle for seeding in the Western Conference heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. The top two finishers in the West will earn Knockout Round byes to the conference semifinals, playing away in the first leg on Nov. 4 before hosting the decisive second leg on Nov. 11. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will host single-elimination Knockout Round matches on Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 against the No. 6 and No. 5 seeds, respectively.
Sporting KC faces a pivotal two-game Western Conference road swing — visiting Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Oct. 17 and leaders FC Dallas on Oct. 21 — prior to hosting LAFC in the club’s monumental regular season finale on Oct. 28. Tickets for the all-important Decision Day showdown, slated for 3:30 p.m. CT, are now available at SeatGeek.com.
2018 MLS Regular Season
Game 31 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 55 degrees and rainy
|Sporting Kansas City (15-8-8, 53 points)||0||1||1|
|LA Galaxy (12-11-9, 45 points)||1||0||1|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic (Yohan Croizet 85); Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Gutierrez; Johnny Russell, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi (Gerso Fernandes 66)
Subs Not Used: Eric Dick, Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Gianluca Busio, Krisztian Nemeth
LA Galaxy: David Bingham; Sheanon Williams (Jorgen Skjelvik 74), Daniel Steres, Dave Romney, Ashley Cole (C); Emmanuel Boateng, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos (Servando Carrasco 90); Romain Alessandrini (Perry Kitchen 85); Ola Kamara, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Subs Not Used: Justin vom Steeg, Tomas Hilliard-Arce, Baggio Husidic, Ariel Lassiter
LA -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic 21 (penalty kick) 25
SKC -- Johnny Russell 9 (Graham Zusi 5) 83
SKC -- Seth Sinovic (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 34
SKC -- Johnny Russell (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 49
SKC -- Ilie Sanchez (yellow card; dissent) 49
SKC -- Daniel Salloi (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 50
LA -- David Bingham (yellow card; time wasting) 89
SKC -- Diego Rubio (yellow card; dissent) 97+
|Shots on Goal||9||3|
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Assistant Referee: Jose Da Silva
Assistant Referee: Adam Garner
Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica
VAR: Caleb Mendez