Beyond The Box Score: Debutants delight as Sporting conquers Canada in Week 1 thriller

"Beyond The Box Score" is a weekly series that takes a statistical dive into every Sporting match, bringing to light the intriguing numbers and factoids that don't appear in the typical box score. To visit the series archive, click here.


Never before had Sporting Kansas City opened an MLS regular season in the month of February, nor had the club ever played a competitive match on Leap Day. For that matter, never before had Sporting begun their regular season campaign on Canadian soil.

Indeed, even before Sporting’s 2020 MLS curtain raiser against Vancouver Whitecaps FC had kicked off, history had already been made.

But Manager Peter Vermes’ men were just getting started.

When referee Ted Unkel blew his full-time whistle on Saturday night, Sporting players and coaches celebrated an impressive 3-1 victory that left all but a small, vibrant pocket of buzzing Kansas City fans at BC Place silent.

The anticipation surrounding the match was understandably high, as Sporting had gone almost five months without an MLS match—during which time the club strengthened by acquiring a crop of marquee newcomers. And it didn’t take long for some of them to leave their mark.

We begin in the 17th minute, when Croatian center back Roberto Puncec rose in the penalty area and steered a header toward the six-yard box after Vancouver had failed to clear a Graham Zusi free kick. In the right place and at the right time was Mexican striker Alan Pulido—the man who arrived in Kansas City on a club-record transfer fee in December—and his expertly placed header gave first blood to Sporting.

Assisted by Puncec, Pulido’s tally marked the first time since 1996 that Sporting’s opening goal of a regular season was scored and assisted by a pair of MLS debutants. Mark Chung assisted Digital Takawira for the club’s first goal in its inaugural game at Arrowhead Stadium on April 13, 1996. Remarkably, Kansas City hadn’t opened its new-season scoring account with a pair of MLS newcomers linking up in almost 24 years.

“When you get him around the box and you give him just a little bit of time, he’s a clinical finisher, he’s deadly, and he’s got a great nose for the goal,” Vermes said of Pulido after the game. “I’m really happy for him that he gets the goal because he worked hard during the preseason.”

Not to be outdone by the killer P’s of Puncec and Pulido, fellow fresh face Gadi Kinda would step up in the biggest of ways six minutes before halftime. The diminutive Israeli midfielder found a pocket of space on the edge of the box, received a pass from left back Luis Martins and unleashed a first-time stunner with his weaker left foot that curled inside the near post to restore Sporting’s lead.

With Kinda joining Pulido on the scoresheet, it had become the fourth MLS regular season opener in club history to see a pair of Sporting newcomers find the back of the net.

TWO SPORTING KC NEWCOMERS SCORE IN MLS SEASON OPENER

  • 1996: Digital Takawira and Frank Klopas (W 3-0 vs. Colorado Rapids, 4/13/1996)
  • 2008: Ivan Trujillo and Claudio Lopez (W 2-0 vs. D.C. United, 3/29/2008)
  • 2011: C.J. Sapong and Omar Bravo (W 3-2 at Chivas USA, 3/19/2011)
  • 2020: Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda (W 3-1 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 2/29/2020)

“He worked so hard. If you love this game and you love positive play, that guy is electrifying to watch,” Vermes said of Kinda’s industrious performance. “He deserved the goal based on his positive play tonight.”

Even with a one-goal advantage, Sporting’s party wasn’t finished. In the dying embers of second-half stoppage time, substitutes Gerso Fernandes and Erik Hurtado combined brilliantly to put the game to bed and seal all three points.

A breathtaking Maradona from Gerso set the winger free down the left side of the box, and his neatly dinked delivery to the far post was volleyed home emphatically as Hurtado put his former club to the sword.

This was the sixth time during Major League Soccer’s Opta era (since 2010) that two Sporting substitutes came off the bench to combine for a goal and a primary assist on the same play. The most recent occurrence before Saturday came on Oct. 17, 2018, when Khiry Shelton and Gianluca Busio entered as second-half reinforcements and connected on a late Busio strike against—you guessed it—Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place. Coming in the 95th minute, it was also Sporting's third-latest away goal in regular season history, behind a famous Ike Opara header in a 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake in 2013 and a Daniel Salloi strike in a 4-1 road defeat of Vancouver less than two years ago.

That, of course, brings us to the final stop in our first 2020 edition of Beyond The Box Score. Sporting are now 4-0-1 against the Whitecaps in the last five meeting, scoring 17 goals and conceding three during the stretch, and have now equaled D.C. United for the most regular season away wins in Canada (13-7-9 record). Moreover, their 31 regular season victories versus Canadian opposition (31-11-15 record) are the most all-time.

When the clock struck midnight on Major League Soccer's first day of the 2020 campaign and the calendar turned from February to March, Sporting stood alone as the only MLS team to bag three or more goals. Fifteen others had fallen short in the space of Saturday's eight fixtures.

"Emotions go up and down," Vermes said. "I thought the guys handled it very well, they implemented the game plan really well. They were committed, we were fit, and the guys deserved the victory based on all those components.”

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