"Beyond The Box Score" is a weekly series presented by Compass Minerals 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.
Major League Soccer’s return to home markets delivered an absolute peach of a matchup right off the bat, as first-place Sporting Kansas City visited second-place Minnesota United FC in the Loons’ 2020 home opener under the Friday night lights at Allianz Field.
Advantage? Sporting Kansas City.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men emerged 2-1 winners to open a four-point lead atop the Western Conference table and end Minnesota’s unbeaten start to the regular season. Gadi Kinda’s early goal set Sporting on their way, and although the Loons leveled through an own goal, Minnesota defender Michael Boxall returned the favor with an own goal of his own in the 55th minute as the visitors took all three points.
A number of compelling narratives surfaced over the course of the game, all of which are touched upon below in our newest edition of Beyond the Box Score, presented by Compass Minerals.
The Sporting Kansas City Academy’s labor continues to bear fruit for the first team. Twenty-year-old defender Jaylin Lindsey, a right back by trade, logged 90 minutes at left back and assisted Kinda’s go-ahead goal in the 12th minute. Eighteen-year-old Gianluca Busio—much more on him in a minute—thrived in the holding midfield spot despite the fact that he had never played in that position at the professional level.
Vermes also called upon a pair of Homegrown substitutes to help Sporting see out the 2-1 result, as 19-year-old Cameron Duke earned his regular season debut and 22-year-old Felipe Hernandez also entered the contest.
Why was this so significant? It marked just the third game in Sporting history to feature appearances from four Homegrown players and the first time in which Sporting finished a match with four Homegrowns on the field. And for the final 15 minutes plus stoppage time, Vermes’ three-man midfield had an all-Academy product look with Busio, Duke and Hernandez patrolling the center of the pitch.
“With the young guys, getting the experience of being out on the field and feeling what that’s like and being part of and having an impact to a result, builds confidence,” Vermes said after the match. “Those guys did a tremendous job in the game today. I think they really, really helped us late in the game. Because we needed what they were able to bring and that’s a big step forward for them and for the club. It says a lot about what we’re trying to do with our pro player pathway. It’s not just a marketing stunt. It’s real. We want those kids to keep getting opportunities. That was big. To have four kids out of our Academy in the game tonight is big.”
As mentioned above, Busio had never been deployed as a deep-lying No. 6 in any of his previous 42 competitive appearances for Sporting. That changed on Friday, and if early returns are any indication, it certainly won’t be his last.
Becoming the youngest MLS player to log the full 90 minutes this season, Busio completed 43 of 47 passes—both totals were team-highs—at a clip of 91.5% accuracy. The North Carolina native also recorded game-highs in interceptions (five) and successful passes in the attacking third (14) while winning three tackles and creating a scoring chance. The comprehensive performance garnered rave reviews from Vermes, who likened the teenager to a specific Italian World Cup winner.
“There was a guy who was a pretty good player in his day. His name was (Andrea) Pirlo and he played as a deep-lying playmaker. I thought Busio was excellent today,” the Sporting manager said. “He gave us something a little different in the game. His work ethic, his ability to win balls, he got out of a lot of stuff, he connected to the group – all without a lot of training in that spot. He did a really good job and adjusted to the position very well and was effective.”
Gianluca Busio vs. Minnesota United highlights. Tough to cut down to Twitter length. Kept the ball very well and the weight on the passes was great throughout pic.twitter.com/DBlk19FehW— Carter Augustine (@CarterAugust1ne) August 22, 2020
Winston’s Winning Debut
Friday’s new-look lineup was headlined by the MLS debut of English Premier League veteran Winston Reid, who is on loan from East London club West Ham United. The 32-year-old New Zealand international has been limited by injury over the last few seasons but thrived in his first game for Sporting. In addition to completing 36 of 40 passes, the center back had a game-high seven clearances—the most by a Sporting player this year.
“He was excellent,” Vermes said of Reid. “His 1v1 defending, his reading of the game and the situations, he cut balls out, great leadership in the back from a communication point of view. He was tremendous.”
Nicest Rivalry in Sports
This moniker has developed in recent years as a result of Sporting and Minnesota—separated by just a six-hour drive on Interstate 35—reciprocating Midwestern friendliness as frequent opponents in the regular season, Open Cup and seemingly every other competition known to man.
The term could be taken a bit more literally on Friday, as Sporting and Minnesota both did favors for one another by putting the ball in their own net. Lindsey’s unfortunate 32nd-minute own goal was canceled out by Michael Boxall’s own goal 10 minutes into the second half, a moment that ultimately decided the contest.
Remarkably enough, this marked the first MLS match in Sporting history to feature multiple own goals.
Five Outta Six Ain’t Bad
Good news, fans: Sporting occupies first place in the West with 15 points and a 5-1-0 record. That stands as the third-best six-game start in club history, eclipsed only by the 2000 season (5-0-1) and the 2012 campaign (6-0-0). Both yielded silverware, as the 2000 Kansas City Wizards claimed a Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup double while the 2012 Sporting side hoisted the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.
Riding a three-game regular season winning streak, Sporting will now prepare for the club’s first home fixture since March 7 when the Houston Dynamo visit Children’s Mercy Park on Tuesday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports GO, serving as a rematch of Sporting’s home-opening 4-0 triumph over five months ago.