Midfielder Bailey Sparks enjoyed a storybook professional debut on Wednesday night, coming off the bench to score a 95th-minute stunner as Sporting Kansas City II (5-9-1, 16 points) nabbed a thrilling 2-1 road victory over Indy Eleven (7-6-2, 23 points) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The 17-year-old Sparks entered as an 86th-minute substitute with the score tied at 1-1 after Sporting KC II striker Wilson Harris and Indy Eleven forward Andrew Carleton traded goals on either side of halftime. Deep into the dying embers of stoppage time, the U.S. youth international received a pass from Petar Cuic, cut past a defender and sent a blistering strike into the far corner to deliver Sporting KC II its wildest win of the season.
The momentous result will give Sporting KC II palpable momentum heading into the club’s 2020 finale, which will take place Saturday versus Group E leaders Louisville City FC (10-3-2, 32 points) at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT with a live stream on ESPN Plus.
Head coach Paulo Nagamura reshuffled his lineup to the tune of three changes from last week’s road loss at Austin Bold FC. Teenagers Ryan Fessler, Mason Leeth and Isaiah LeFlore made way for captain Christian Duke, Fredinho Mompremier and 17-year-old Sporting KC Academy product Kayden Pierre, who landed his first professional start.
Tyler Pasher, an integral member of Sporting Kansas City II in 2016 and 2017, went remarkably close to firing Indy ahead twice in the opening 10 minutes. Ilija Ilic’s deft touch at the top of the box set Pasher free on the left side of the penalty area, but the winger skied his shot high and wide of the mark. Not long later, Sporting KC II goalkeeper Remi Prieur produced a jaw-dropping save to thwart the Canadian at close range after Carl Haworth unfurled a teasing cross from the right flank.
Harris entered the night with a team-leading seven goals and tried adding to his tally in the 16th minute, but Indy goalkeeper Evan Newton was equal to his well-struck attempt. Jahon Rad was next to roll the dice from long range in the 27th minute and missed the mark.
Prieur’s heroic play between the posts left Indy flummoxed near the half-hour mark. Pasher was once again at the heart of the attack in the 28th minute, latching onto Drew Conner’s cross only to see his low piledriver pushed aside by the Sporting KC II gloveman. Shortly thereafter, Haworth steered a powerful header on target off Pasher’s curling delivery to the far post, but the effort lacked the direction to beat Prieur. The rookie then did well to prevent an unfortunate own goal in the 35th minute and stave off another wave of Indy pressure.
Having weathered the proverbial storm, Sporting KC II drew first blood in the 41st minute. Mompremier did wonderfully to square up his defender along the left wing and whip a pinpoint cross to the head of Harris, who snapped his first-time shot past the outstretched Newton for his 23rd career goal in the USL Championship.
With momentum swinging in favor of Nagamura’s men, Sporting Kansas City loanee Tyler Freeman had thoughts of doubling his side’s advantage on the stroke of intermission and saw his 20-yard bomb repelled by Newton.
On loan from Atlanta United FC, Carleton made a near-instant impact as a halftime substitute. With 49 minutes on the clock, the 20-year-old settled Pasher’s pass and sent a side-footed shot past Prieur and into the right corner for his first goal of the campaign to make the score 1-1.
Freeman’s dazzling footwork at the opposite end afforded him a yard of space to cross from the right edge of the box, and although Mompremier successfully cushioned the ball down eight yards from goal, his venomous side volley carried inches over the crossbar as the contest remained level.
A delicately poised battle continued to ebb and flow, with Prieur denying Pasher once more in the 67th minute when the skillful forward cut centrally from the left side and shot with his weaker right foot. Nine minutes later, substitute Nick Moon chested down Ayoze’s looping long ball and hammered wide into the side netting at a tight angle.
Knowing a win would punch their ticket to the 2020 USL Championship postseason, Indy committed numbers forward in the waning moments of the match but came undone to Sparks’ moment of magic. Martin Rennie’s side will now aim to clinch a Group E playoff spot with a win or a draw Saturday at Saint Louis FC, who can leapfrog Indy for second place with a victory of their own.
2020 USL Championship
Match 15 of 16
Lucas Oil Stadium | Indianapolis, Indiana
Weather: 66 degrees and clear
|Sporting Kansas City II (5-9-1, 16 points)||1||1||2|
|Indy Eleven (7-6-2, 23 points)||0||1||1|
Sporting Kansas City II: Remi Prieur; Kayden Pierre, Kaveh Rad, Danny Barbir, Dillon Serna; Jahon Rad, Jake Davis, Christian Duke (C) (Bailey Sparks 86'); Tyler Freeman (Isaiah LeFlore 82'), Wilson Harris (Petar Cuic 86'), Fredinho Mompremier (Dominik Resetar 82')
Subs Not Used: Mitch Hildebrandt, Mason Leeth, Camden Riley
Indy Eleven: Evan Newton; Karl Ouimette, Paddy Barrett (C), Neveal Hackshaw; Carl Haworth, Tyler Gibson (Jeremy Rafanello 86'), Drew Conner (Matthew Watson 69'), Ayoze; Ilija Ilic (Nick Moon 69'), Cameron Lindley (Andrew Carleton 46'), Tyler Pasher
Subs Not Used: Conner Antley, Felicien Dumas, Jordan Farr
SKC -- Wilson Harris 8 (Fredinho Mompremier 3) 41'
IND -- Andrew Carleton 1 (Tyler Pasher 2) 49'
SKC -- Bailey Sparks 1 (Petar Cuic 3) 90+5'
IND -- Cameron Lindley (yellow card; dissent) 38'
IND -- Matthew Watson (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 73'
SKC -- Bailey Sparks (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 86'
|Shots on Goal||6||7|
Referee: Calin Radosav
Assistant Referee: Art Arustamyan
Assistant Referee: Matthew Rodman
Fourth Official: Youssef Elmessoussi