Sporting Kansas City (16-8-8, 56 points) staged a furious late rally on Wednesday night to claim a 4-1 victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC (12-13-7, 43 points) and vault into second place in the Western Conference heading into the final two matches of the regular season.
Faced with a 1-0 halftime deficit on Felipe’s 42nd-minute strike, Sporting KC bagged four unanswered goals over the final half-hour at BC Place in Vancouver to move level on points with third-place LAFC while holding the goal differential tiebreaker. The result sets up a mouthwatering clash this Sunday as Sporting KC visits leaders FC Dallas (16-7-9, 57 points) in a 4 p.m. CT kickoff at Toyota Stadium, airing live on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest.
Yohan Croizet kick-started the comeback with a sublime strike in the 62nd minute, Daniel Salloi scored the game-winner 20 minutes later and Gianluca Busio sealed the result on a 94th-minute tap-in to become the second-youngest scorer in MLS regular season history at 16 years and 142 days. Salloi added gloss to the scoreline in the 97th minute on a wildly dramatic evening in British Columbia.
Prior to Wednesday, Vancouver was 10-0-2 when scoring first this season and 13-0-2 in its last 15 MLS matches when leading at halftime. Sporting KC’s fightback stopped that streak in its tracks and gave Manager Peter Vermes his 131st regular season coaching win, taking sole possession of fifth place on the all-time MLS charts.
In action for the first time since drawing LA Galaxy 1-1 on Oct. 6, Sporting KC showed no signs of rust in the early stages. Gerso Fernandes conjured the visitors’ first chance in the fifth minute, settling a pass from Diego Rubio and cutting centrally only to see his right-footed effort snared by Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
Eight minutes later, a superb flash of skill from Yohan Croizet ignited a Sporting KC counter attack as the Frenchman beat two defenders and played a diagonal through ball to the streaking Daniel Salloi, who fired across Marinovic and marginally wide of the right post.
At the opposite end, the Whitecaps first tested Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia in the 19th minute when midfield playmaker Felipe was afforded space from distance and unleashed a venomous blast that was parried safely over the crossbar. The play came just before Rubio asked further questions of the Vancouver backline, sending in a low cross from the left byline that nearly reached Fernandes in the six-yard area.
Graham Zusi, making his 250th regular season appearance, almost tallied his 62nd career MLS assist on the half-hour mark, but defender Ike Opara steered his teasing free kick delivery just beyond Marinovic’s left-hand post. Sporting KC could have rued the near miss seconds later, with Vancouver’s Brek Shea racing in behind the defense and poking wide of the target.
Croizet’s vibrant first half continued in the 34th minute when he glided past Felipe and square the ball to Rubio, whose shot at the top of the box was blocked. Roles were reversed six minutes before halftime, but Rubio’s layoff to Croizet was pelted wayward from 18 yards.
Felipe fired the Whitecaps ahead on the cusp of intermission, punishing Sporting KC for a failed clearance in their own half. Kei Kamara cushioned a high-arching ball just outside the box into the path of the Brazilian midfielder, whose 20-yard strike nestled low into the left corner for his first goal of 2018.
Kamara, facing his former club, caught his own glimpse of goal in the 50th minute but spurned a breakaway opportunity with a lunging shot that sailed high and wide following a Nicolas Mezquida through ball. Mezquida then threatened at the hour mark, pulling the trigger from a tight angle on the right side of the box, but Melia—who would secure his 50th regular season win on Wednesday—reacted well to push the ball aside.
Croizet’s brilliant equalizer resulted from captain Matt Besler’s marauding run down the right sideline in the 62nd minute. The Sporting KC center back galloped into the attacking third and cut the ball back to Croizet, whose sweetly struck 20-yard curler gave Marinovic no chance. The goal was Croizet’s third of the MLS variety, with his first coming in a 6-0 win against Vancouver on April 20, while Besler recorded his third assist of 2018.
Leading scorer Johnny Russell entered as a 63rd-minute substitute, three days after suiting up for the Scotland Men’s National Team against Portugal, and made his first imprint nine minutes later, heading over the bar off Roger Espinoza’s back-post cross.
The dying embers of the game burned frantically with both sides exchanging punches going forward, and Sporting KC were ultimately rewarded with eight minutes left. Khiry Shelton, who came off the bench in the 57th minute, muscled off a challenge from Jose Aja and touched the ball invitingly to Salloi at the top of the penalty area. The homegrown forward finished ruthlessly, placing a side-footer past the outstretched Marinovic for his 10th goal of the year in all competitions.
Espinoza, who earned his 200th regular season start on Wednesday, went agonizingly close to doubling Sporting KC’s advantage in the 86th minute, but his toe poke was expertly saved by Marinovic.
Vancouver’s desperate search for a leveler left its backline exposed, and Sporting KC took full advantage on two occasions in second-half stoppage time. Jockeying for possession along the sideline, Russell won the ball from Aaron Maund and skipped unencumbered toward the goal before squaring to an open Busio, who finished into a gaping net for the 16-year-old’s historic first goal in MLS with 94 minutes on the clock. Shelton then set up Salloi for the second time, rolling an unselfish square pass for Salloi to knock home from point-blank range.
2018 MLS Regular Season
Game 32 of 34
BC Place | Vancouver, British Columbia
Weather: 56 degrees and clear
|Sporting Kansas City (16-8-8, 56 points)||0||4||4|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC (12-13-7, 43 points)||1||0||1|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Yohan Croizet (Gianluca Busio 63); Daniel Salloi, Diego Rubio (Khiry Shelton 57), Gerso Fernandes (Johnny Russell 63)
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Brad Evans, Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Stefan Marinovic; Jakob Nerwinski, Jose Aja, Aaron Maund, Brett Levis (Marcel de Jong 77); Jordon Mutch, Erik Hurtado, Felipe (Russell Teibert 69), Nicolas Mezquida, Brek Shea (Cristian Techera 68); Kei Kamara (C)
Subs Not Used: Brian Rowe, Sean Franklin, Roberto Dominguez, Anthony Blondell
VAN -- Felipe 1 (Kei Kamara 6) 42
SKC -- Yohan Croizet 3 (Matt Besler 3, Graham Zusi 6) 62
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 8 (Khiry Shelton 3) 82
SKC -- Gianluca Busio 1 (Johnny Russell 10) 94+
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 9 (Khiry Shelton 4, Ilie Sanchez 4) 97+
SKC -- Seth Sinovic (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 53
|Shots on Goal||8||3|
Referee: Armando Villarreal
Assistant Referee: Ian Anderson
Assistant Referee: Chris Wattam
Fourth Official: Joseph Dickerson
VAR: Tim Ford