Beyond The Box Score: Heroes emerge in historic home-opening hammer drop on Houston

"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.


Precisely 160 days had passed between MLS matches at Children’s Mercy Park. It was only appropriate, then, that Sporting Kansas City treated its fans to a show that was well worth the wait.

In a 4-0 smackdown of rivals Houston Dynamo on Saturday night, a host of stars delivered spellbinding performances on a historic evening made eve merrier by an electric, sold-out crowd whose hunger for MLS soccer was finally satiated after a five-month wait.

Before examining the individual accomplishments that stemmed from the memorable win, consider this: never before has Sporting opened an MLS regular season with consecutive victories by multiple goals. Saturday’s 4-0 triumph, if you need reminding, came on the heels of last weekend’s 3-1 defeat of Vancouver.

Moreover, 2020 marks the second season in which Sporting has scored three or more goals in its first two fixtures of a regular season. The first such occurrence unfolded in 2000 when Kansas City went on to claim the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield. Combine comfortable wins with explosive offense, and there’s a good case to be made that Sporting is off to its most dominant two-game start in club history.

“It was a great exhibition by the players,” said Manager Peter Vermes, who celebrated his 350th MLS match in charge of Sporting on Saturday. “As I told them, they prepared really well in this offseason, in the preseason and the first couple of weeks starting the season. All they had to do was go and execute. They were excellent and it was great for the fans.”

Great for the fans, indeed. In fact, the four-goal margin this weekend equaled the team’s largest margin of victory in an MLS home opener, matching a 4-0 win over D.C. United at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in 2010.

As for the headliners who thrived in the limelight? You better make space for red-hot newcomers Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda.

Both players found the back of the net on Saturday—Pulido with a predatory first-half finish off the post and Kinda with a cool close-range effort in the second half—to further endear themselves to the Children’s Mercy Park faithful. They also tallied their first MLS assists, making strong claims for MLS Team of the Week honors.

As you would guess, Pulido and Kinda have made collective history in their first two Sporting matches. They are now the third and fourth newcomers all-time to score in each of Sporting’s first two games of a regular season. The others to do so? Danish dynamite Miklos Molnar in 2000 and Argentine Claudio Bieler in 2013.

Now would you look at that: Sporting went on to win MLS Cup in each of the previous two instances.

SPORTING NEWCOMERS TO SCORE IN FIRST TWO MATCHES OF AN MLS SEASON

  • 2000: Miklos Molnar (Sporting won MLS Cup)
  • 2013: Claudio Bieler (Sporting won MLS Cup)
  • 2020: Alan Pulido
  • 2020: Gadi Kinda

With Pulido and Kinda on the scoresheet, this is just the third time ever that a pair of Sporting players have scored in the team’s first two regular season games. The previous duos to achieve the feat together were Molnar and Chris Klein in 2000 and Jack Jewsbury and Chris Klein in 2005. Shouts to Klein for his involvement in two of the three occurrences.

“They’re special players and special quality,” Vermes said of Pulido and Kinda. “The biggest thing is they’re team guys. They’ve been working as hard off the ball, defensively, everything. That’s what is most important. Obviously, we brought those guys in to give us a little bit more in the attack. They’re pulling through on that, as well, but I can’t say enough about their defensive responsibilities and how they’re putting a shift in each game.”

Elsewhere, fellow standouts Roger Espinoza and Khiry Shelton bagged their first Sporting goals since 2018. Espinoza’s most recent goal had been a Decision Day strike against LAFC in October 2018. Shelton, of course, spent 2019 with German club SC Paderborn 07. With his late tally on Saturday, Shelton became the eighth player in Kansas City history—Espinoza among them—to score a goal in two separate stints with the club.

SPORTING PLAYERS TO SCORE IN SEPARATE MLS STINTS WITH THE CLUB

  • Roger Espinoza (2008-2012; 2015-present)
  • Khiry Shelton (2018; 2020-present)
  • Benny Feilhaber (2013-2017; 2019)
  • Matt McKeon (1996-1998; 2000-2002)
  • Krisztian Nemeth (2015; 2018-2019)
  • Lawrence Olum (2011-2014; 2016)
  • Preki (1996-2000; 2002-2005)
  • Josh Wolff (2003-2006; 2008-2010)

But do not let Espinoza's stunning accomplishment—one that encapsulates the well-rounded nature of his awesome, under-the-radar performance—go overlooked. On Saturday, he became the first Sporting player in the Opta era (since 2010) to score a goal, win five tackles and complete more than 40 passes in an MLS match. Additionally, his five tackles won against Houston were tied for the most in MLS in Week 2.

Lastly, we come to the man between the sticks. A well-organized defensive display led to the clean sheet and one particular save from Tim Melia—a finger-tip stop to deny Memo Rodriguez early in the second half—ultimately prompted a rewriting of the club history books.

Sporting's veteran goalkeeper collected his 46th career shutout in the MLS regular season, vaulting him into sole possession of first place on Kansas City's all-time charts. The 33-year-old had entered 2020 tied with Sporting Legend Jimmy Nielsen for most shutouts in club regular season history. Saturday's smackdown was the difference maker, not to mention a reminder of Melia's unquestionable consistency since becoming the No. 1 keeper in Kansas City in 2015.

SPORTING’S TOP FIVE SHUTOUT LEADERS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

# Player Shutouts Games Played Seasons
1 Tim Melia 46 149 2015-present
2 Jimmy Nielsen 45 128 2010-2013
3 Tony Meola 37 125 1999-2004
4 Kevin Hartman
Bo Oshoniyi
22
22
90
96
2007-2009
2000-2006

"It’s special, but it’s down to all of the people on the field and everyone in this organization," Melia said Saturday night when asked to reflect on his accomplishment. "They gave me this opportunity to succeed. It’s not me. It’s something that goalkeepers hold but look at the game tonight. I didn’t do anything and I was able to break the record. I’m just happy to be here and happy to be part of this club. It’s special to me."

With six points from two games under their belts, Sporting will now prepare for a mouthwatering showdown 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.

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