Sporting Kansas City (2-1-2, 8 points) battled back to claim a 1-1 road draw with expansion side FC Cincinnati (2-2-2, 8 points) on Sunday afternoon at Nippert Stadium. After falling behind to Darren Mattocks’ 19th-minute penalty kick, Sporting equalized through blossoming Academy product Gianluca Busio in the 62nd minute to secure a point and extend the club’s regular-season unbeaten run to four matches.
At 16 years and 314 days, Busio becomes the youngest player in Major League Soccer history to score in back-to-back regular season matches, having opened his 2019 scoring account in last Saturday’s 7-1 home victory over the Montreal Impact.
Less than 72 hours removed from a Concacaf Champions League defeat to CF Monterrey in Mexico, Manager Peter Vermes fielded a vastly different lineup on Sunday. Among the eight changes were Sporting KC and MLS debutant Gedion Zelalem, who joined Busio and captain Ilie Sanchez in midfield. In defense, goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas earned his MLS debut, while veteran outside backs Nicolas Hasler and Rodney Wallace also logged their first league appearances for the club. Further up the pitch, Yohan Croizet made his first start of the year as a central forward, flanked by wingers Kelyn Rowe and Johnny Russell.
Zendejas was forced into action within 35 seconds of kickoff. Allan Cruz’s low cross from the right wing reached U.S. international Kenny Saief, who saw his near-post effort repelled by the spry 23-year-old. The visitors were quick to reply, however, as Rowe created a turnover that set Croizet free down the left channel, but Cincinnati goalkeeper Spencer Richey produced a reflex save to deny the Frenchman.
Referee Ismael Elfath’s first major involvement came in the 19th minute when he awarded the hosts a penalty after Fontas nudged Roland Lamah inside the box. Mattocks coolly converted the ensuing spot kick to Zendejas’ left, becoming FC Cincinnati’s eighth different goal scorer of the MLS campaign.
Sporting’s indifferent start was compounded in the 27th minute when Wallace sustained an injury, prompting Seth Sinovic to enter the fray. Not long later, an impressive kick-save from Zendejas prevented Mattocks from bagging his brace and doubling the lead.
At the opposite end, Sporting spurned a golden opportunity to restore parity in the 33rd minute when Busio’s deflected shot fell favorably to Rowe and was steered narrowly over the crossbar. Some 30 seconds later, Mattocks continued to wreak havoc with a bending strike that rattled the woodwork and ushered Sporting sighs of relief. The forward was then thwarted by Zendejas from close range after Sporting failed to clear a free kick delivery on the stroke of halftime.
Hasler helped Sporting manufacture the first decent look of the second period, winning a tackle on the edge of the penalty area and allowing Russell to scoop up the loose ball and poke a shot just wide in the 49th minute.
The contest burst into life near the hour mark when both sides exchanged agonizing misses. Croizet ran onto Fontas’ brilliant through ball and unleashed a laser that was pushed aside by Richey, and although Sporting were able to keep the play alive, substitute Felipe Gutierrez’s strike near the penalty spot was blocked through traffic. FC Cincinnati wasted a chance of their own when Mattocks played substitute Kekutah Manneh clean through on goal, only for the pacy winger to pull his shot wide of the mark.
Busio’s historic strike leveled terms in the 62nd minute. Rowe’s searching ball over the top caused confusion between Richey and defender Greg Garza, allowing the U.S. youth international to swoop in, win possession and slot into an empty net from a tight angle. The goal was Busio’s second in as many MLS matches and the third of his Sporting KC career, and it gave Vermes’ side newfound momentum heading into the final half-hour.
Nick Hagglund thought he had nodded Cincinnati ahead once more in the 84th minute, his six-yard header beating Zendejas inside the near post, but the offside flag was raised. Seven minute later, Sporting’s last opportunity of the day went begging when Russell curled one over the bar following quick buildup involving Busio and Rowe.
In the final addition to a compelling plotline, Zendejas made sure Sporting split the points with a finger-tip save in the 94th minute after Leonardo Bertone put a dipping free kick on frame.
With a two-game road trip in the books, Sporting Kansas City will return to Children’s Mercy Park for back-to-back home fixtures next week. Vermes’ men will host Monterrey in the decisive second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Semifinals at 8 p.m. CT Thursday—hoping to overturn a 5-0 deficit on aggregate—before squaring off with reigning MLS Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls at 6 p.m. CT Sunday. Tickets for both marquee matchups are available at SeatGeek.com.
2019 MLS Regular Season
Game 5 of 34
Nippert Stadium | Cincinnati, Ohio
Weather: 72 degrees and cloudy
|Sporting Kansas City (2-1-2, 8 points)||0||1||1|
|FC Cincinnati (2-2-2, 8 points)||1||0||1|
Sporting Kansas City: Adrian Zendejas; Nicolas Hasler, Botond Barath, Andreu Fontas, Rodney Wallace (Seth Sinovic 27); Ilie Sanchez (C), Gianluca Busio, Gedion Zelalem (Felipe Gutierrez 56); Johnny Russell, Yohan Croizet (Krisztian Nemeth 70), Kelyn Rowe
Subs Not Used: Eric Dick, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Tyler Freeman, Gerso Fernandes
FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey; Mathieu Deplagne, Nick Hagglund, Kendall Waston (C), Greg Garza; Allan Cruz, Leonardo Bertone, Victor Ulloa, Roland Lamah (Kekuta Manneh 46); Darren Mattocks (Caleb Stanko 82), Kenny Saief (Eric Alexander 77)
Subs Not Used: Jimmy Hague, Justin Hoyte, Alvas Powell, Frankie Amaya
CIN -- Darren Mattocks 1 (penalty kick) 19
SKC -- Gianluca Busio 2 (unassisted) 62
SKC -- Andreu Fontas (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 18
SKC -- Yohan Croizet (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 35
SKC -- Gedion Zelalem (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 38
CIN -- Greg Garza (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 78
CIN -- Leonardo Bertone (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 88
SKC -- Botond Barath (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 93
|Shots on Goal||4||4|
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Assistant Referee: Jason White
Assistant Referee: Adam Garner
Fourth Official: Ismir Pekmic
VAR: Jon Freemon
AVAR: Peter Balciunas