Two goals on both sides of halftime propelled Sporting Kansas City (2-0-0, 6 points) to a comprehensive 4-0 victory over rivals Houston Dynamo (0-1-1, 1 points) in an electric home opener at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday night.
A rampant display saw red-hot newcomers Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda score for the second straight match, while veterans Roger Espinoza and Khiry Shelton also found the back of the net to give Sporting an early perch atop the Western Conference standings. Between the sticks, goalkeeper Tim Melia secured his record-breaking 46th career MLS regular season shutout, surpassing Jimmy Nielsen for the most in club history.
Saturday’s scintillating performance—which treated supporters to the first match at Children’s Mercy Park in 160 days—equaled Sporting’s largest margin of victory in a home opener and marked the first time ever that the club has opened an MLS regular season with back-to-back wins by multiple goals.
Presiding over his 350th regular season match as Sporting’s manager, Peter Vermes fielded an unchanged starting XI from last weekend’s 3-1 triumph at Vancouver Whitecaps FC as Pulido, Kinda and Croatian defender Roberto Puncec made their Children’s Mercy Park debuts.
A pulsating atmosphere created by the largest season-opening crowd in stadium history set the stage for Sporting’s early dominance, and the hosts were duly rewarded in the 16th minute. Kinda settled a clever diagonal service from Graham Zusi and exploited space in the central channel, bursting forward and squeezing a pass inside the box to Shelton. The ball then bounced loose to Pulido, whose predatory first-touch strike beat Dynamo goalkeeper Marko Maric, caromed off the far post and nestled into the net.
Houston was on the back foot throughout the evening but managed to carve up an opening in the 19th minute when Mauro Manotas—seeking his 50th career MLS goal—cut onto his right foot and had a shot blocked by Sporting captain Matt Besler. The fleeting chance was one of few looks for the visitors on their turbulent visit to the Heartland.
Espinoza doubled Sporting’s advantage with 26 minutes on the clock, prodding home after Johnny Russell’s free kick deflected off a Houston defender in a congested penalty area. The goal was Espinoza’s ninth of his heralded MLS career and his first since a Decision Day victory over LAFC on Oct. 28, 2018. Russell then went agonizingly close to blowing the roof off Children’s Mercy Park, racing onto Maric’s failed clearance and nearly punishing the advanced keeper with an empty-net attempt that bounced marginally wide from 45 yards.
Sporting’s all-time regular season shutout leader was called into action four minutes after the restart. Houston midfielder Memo Rodriguez unleashed a low shot from the left edge of the box that dragged across Melia, prompting him to dive at full extension to apply the slightest finger-tip touch to carry the ball inches wide. Not long later, Dynamo winger Thomas McNamara spurned an open look with a shot that blazed high.
Active and involved, Russell was involved in two scoring opportunities near the hour mark. He fleeced a defender on the right wing and teed up Kinda for a blistering shot that was saved from 15 yards, then latched onto a beautiful cross from Luis Martins only to miss the mark.
Kinda solidified Sporting’s lead in the 65th minute on a play crafted by Russell and Pulido. The Scottish international picked out Pulido on the edge of the penalty area, allowing the Mexican to create separation and clip a low ball across the face of goal. The Israeli Kinda was on hand to take a touch and poke low past Maric to ignite further celebrations across the stadium. Alan Pulido and Kinda are now the third and fourth newcomers in Sporting history to score goals in each of the team’s first two matches of an MLS regular season, following Miklos Molnar in 2000 and Claudio Bieler in 2013—two forwards who set the tone for what became MLS Cup-winning campaigns in Kansas City.
Sporting’s relentless pursuit of a fourth goal saw Shelton on the breakaway and substitute Gerso Fernandes float an audacious chip shot narrowly over the bar. Shelton was nevertheless rewarded for his industry in the 77th minute, applying a cool finish after Houston was unable to clear 17-year-old Gianluca Busio’s in-swinging corner kick.
With two emphatic wins under their belts, Sporting will now prepare for a mouthwatering showdown next Saturday at Eastern Conference powerhouse Atlanta United FC (2-0-0, 6 points). The cross-conference clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is slated for 6 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO.
2020 MLS Regular Season
Match 2 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 57 degrees and clear
|Sporting Kansas City (2-0-0, 6 points)||2||2||4|
|Houston Dynamo (0-1-1, 1 points)||0||0||0|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Roberto Puncec, Matt Besler (C), Luis Martins; Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Gadi Kinda (Gianluca Busio 75'); Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido (Erik Hurtado 84'), Johnny Russell (Gerso Fernandes 71')
Subs Not Used: Richard Sanchez, Botond Barath, Jaylin Lindsey, Daniel Salloi
Houston Dynamo: Marko Maric; Zarek Valentin, Aljaz Struna, Maynor Figueroa, Adam Lundkvist; Tomas Martinez (Darwin Quintero 57'), Matias Vera, Boniek Garcia (C), Thomas McNamara (Christian Ramirez 73'), Memo Rodriguez (Michael Salazar 78'); Mauro Manotas
Subs Not Used: Cody Cropper, Alejandro Fuenmayor, Darwin Ceren, Niko Hansen
SKC -- Alan Pulido 2 (Khiry Shelton 1, Gadi Kinda 1) 16'
SKC -- Roger Espinoza 1 (unassisted) 26'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda 2 (Alan Pulido 1, Johnny Russell 1) 65'
SKC -- Khiry Shelton 1 (unassisted) 77'
HOU -- Aljaz Struna (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 14'
HOU -- Maynor Figueroa (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 25'
SKC -- Ilie Sanchez (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 30'
HOU -- Matias Vera (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 31'
HOU -- Adam Lundkvist (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 35'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 56'
HOU -- Michael Salazar (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 89'
|Shots on Goal||7||1|
Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant Referee: Brian Dunn
Assistant Referee: Jason White
Fourth Official: Lukasz Szpala
VAR: Chico Grajeda
AVAR: Tom Supple