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After going 333 days without a draw in the MLS regular season, Sporting Kansas City now has two in the past five days with a pair of 1-1 results that have SKC atop the Western Conference standings by a two-point cushion.
Sporting came from behind for the second straight match in Wednesday's stalemate with FC Dallas at Children's Mercy Park and has now gained five points from a trailing position, second most in MLS since the league resumed play in July. And the team did it with a starting lineup that featured four SKC Academy products and none of the club's four MLS All-Stars amidst a stretch of five games in 16 days.
Let's break it down.
Manager Peter Vermes started 18-year-old Gianluca Busio and 20-year-old Jaylin Lindsey for the fourth straight match since the club's return from the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida, while also adding 19-year-old Cam Duke and 22-year-old Felipe Hernandez to join Busio in the all-Homegrown midfield. It marked the second time - and second straight match against FC Dallas, coincidentally - the team has started four Homegrown Players in the regular season and resulted in the ninth youngest lineup Sporting has fielded for an MLS match in the team's 25 seasons.
|8/16/00||@ SJ||99,532||3-0 W|
|6/6/14||@ HOU||101,745||2-0 W|
|6/20/12||@ SEA||102,156||1-1 T|
|10/6/19||@ DAL||103,402||6-0 L|
|10/3/15||@ POR||103,590||1-0 W|
|10/9/13||@ HOU||103,738||0-0 T|
Nine of those 10 fixtures have come with Vermes as manager and, notably, Sporting secured points in all but one with a 4-1-5 record in those games.
Wednesday was also the first time Sporting started two teenagers - Busio and Duke, who made his first professional start - in the midfield for an MLS match and only the second time a team has started three players born in 2000 or later in an MLS regular season match.
|4/6/19||FC Dallas||Cerrillo, Ferreira, Roberts||2-1 L|
|9/2/20||Sporting KC||Busio, Duke, Lindsey||1-1 T|
Lindsey led all players in SKCvDAL with 86 touches and four interceptions, while Busio led all players with 68 passes - including game-highs for successful passes (60) and passes in the opponent's half (40).
"When you look at all the young guys that got their starts tonight, they helped get a result," Vermes told reporters postgame. "They did a good job. You’ve got Hernandez, you’ve got Duke, you’ve got Busio, you’ve got Lindsey, even Daniel (Salloi) came on. You’ve got five guys on the field that have come out of our Academy. That’s a pretty big step for us as a club...These are all good moments for those guys as they continue to grow and get better."
Sporting was playing without four of the team's top midfielders in the absence of Gadi Kinda (suspension), Roger Espinoza (injury), Ilie Sanchez (personal reasons) and Felipe Gutierrez (season-ending injury). Add in a well-deserved night off for Designated Player Alan Pulido and a substitute role for Graham Zusi - who had played every minute this season previously - and Sporting's squad featured two interesting footnotes:
- Wednesday was the first regular season game SKC played without any of the team's four active MLS All-Stars (Besler, Espinoza, Ilie, Zusi) in the starting lineup since Oct. 1, 2016.
- Wednesday was also the first time Besler and Zusi, the team's two longest-tenured players, have both subbed into the same MLS match.
Besler, a halftime insertion that remarkably resulted in four former Blue Valley West High School students playing for SKC simultaneously, and Zusi, who slid into a midfield role for the first time since 2015 in the game's 57th minute, each showed their class with abbreviated contributions.
"Besler didn’t start but he came in in the second half and I thought he was a big impact in the game for us," Vermes said. "He helped us build out. We had so much more pressure going forward. He was calm on the ball. He was good at breaking up tackles."
Zusi’s four chances created in his 33 minutes on the field matched the most by a substitute in team history during the Opta era (2010-present), equaling Craig Rocastle's four chances created as a halftime replacement on October 23, 2010.
While the World Cup veterans provided a boost on both sides of the ball, Sporting had already begun to take control of the game in the first half. After conceding in the ninth minute, Sporting held FC Dallas to only two shots - both from beyond 25 yards out - for the remainder of the match.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the field, Sporting outshot their opponent 21-2 in the final 80 minutes. Eight of those came from Johnny Russell - matching the most by a player in MLS this year - but it was Khiry Shelton who leveled the match in first half stoppage time with his team-leading fourth goal of the year and the fourth-latest first half goal in team history at the 47:16 mark.
Shelton is one of only three MLS offseason additions, along with teammate Gadi Kinda and Columbus Crew playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, with four goals so far this season. His goal came on assists from Gerso Fernandes, in his 100th MLS appearance, and Hernandez, making just his second MLS start.
Sporting Kansas City has now scored in all eight of the team's regular season matches in 2020 - the only team in MLS yet to be shutout - and might have added more to the scoresheet if not for a record-setting performance by the FC Dallas defense in front of MLS debutant Kyle Zobeck. The visitors' 14 blocked shots on Wednesday are the most in the Opta era, equaling a mark set by five previous teams in the past decade.
"Some of the blocks that they made were ridiculous to be honest - some of the goal line clearances and blocks that they made. It just didn't fall for us. It seemed like everything we had was blocked," Russell said postgame. "We had so many opportunities, so many shots and good shots that were on target and probably goals, and they just throw a body in the way. Credit to them, that’s the way you want your team to defend. They were very good at it tonight."
Sporting will return to the road on Saturday with a trip to take on the Houston Dynamo at 7 p.m. CT at BBVA Stadium. Live coverage will be available on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO and Sports Radio 810 WHB.