Sporting Kansas City (10-6-3, 33 points) delivered an emphatic second-half display to surge atop the Western Conference standings on Saturday night, defeating the Colorado Rapids (5-5-4, 19 points) by a 4-0 scoreline at Children’s Mercy Park.
After a scoreless opening 45 minutes, Alan Pulido, Andreu Fontas, Gadi Kinda and Gerso Fernandes all found the back of the net as part of a wire-to-wire performance in which goalkeeper Tim Melia earned his 50th regular season shutout for Sporting and moved into a tie with Tony Meola for first place on the club’s all-time regular season saves chart.
Saturday’s result vaults Sporting a point ahead of Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers at the top of the West with three regular season matches remaining. Manager Peter Vermes’ side will look to continue their winning ways on Wednesday with a visit to Eastern Conference bottom-dwellers FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports GO.
Facing a Colorado outfit that hadn’t played since Sept. 23 due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team, Sporting Kansas City deployed a starting XI that featured three changes from last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Chicago Fire FC. Pulido replaced Erik Hurtado after missing the previous four matches while on international duty with Mexico, veteran midfielder Roger Espinoza logged his 297th competitive appearance for the club by stepping in for 19-year-old Cam Duke, and Fontas partnered Roberto Puncec after Winston Reid was a late scratch with groin tightness.
The first half unfolded in one-sided manner as Sporting held Colorado to zero shots and zero corner kicks while forcing Rapids goalkeeper William Yarbrough into four saves. Deployed as a winger for the second straight game, 18-year-old Gianluca Busio threatened twice in the opening half hour, only to see his right-footed curlers near the top of the box bend a yard off the mark.
Pulido showcased his dazzling skill in the 16th minute, combining neatly with Jaylin Lindsey on the right channel before slicing past a pair of defenders and seeing his low effort smothered by Yarbrough. Next to threaten was captain Johnny Russell, who swiftly connected with Gadi Kinda before drawing a foul on Collen Warner just outside the penalty area. Russell’s ensuing free kick packed plenty of power but lacked the direction to beat Yarbrough, who parried it aside.
Another wave of Sporting pressure in the 33rd minute allowed Pulido to exploit a pocket of space and unleash a 30-yard sledgehammer that had Yarbrough scrambling, but the keeper successfully blocked the shot and the Rapids managed to scramble clear.
The Rapids entered the night boasting a 3-1-1 road record and a single loss in their previous seven games, but the visitors were decidedly swept off the pitch in the second stanza. Pulido landed Sporting’s first punch in the 54th minute, receiving a pass from Espinoza with his back to goal, turning onto his right foot and rifling a shot low into the left corner. The Mexican international has three goals in his last two MLS appearances and six on the season, tied with Russell and Kinda for the team lead.
Just past the hour mark, Pulido dashed through on a breakaway and had his attempt saved by the outstretched Yarbrough. Russell kept the ball alive, however, and fed Busio with a decadent backheel pass, but the teenager’s shot was blocked near the penalty spot.
In the 67th minute, Fontas bagged his first MLS goal and his first professional strike since January 2017 when he plied his trade for Spanish club Celta Vigo. Russell’s long, floating free kick into the crowded box was nodded kindly into Fontas’ path by Rapids defender Danny Wilson, and the 30-year-old defender made no mistake by sweeping home at close range.
Colorado were trending to become the third team in MLS history to finish a game without a shot attempt, but those concerns were wiped away in the 76th minute when Melia collected Wilson’s innocuous header.
The hosts added gloss to their dominance by striking twice in the final moments. Kinda settled a pass from Russell, powered into the box and pulled the trigger, and although his initial attempt was blocked by Wilson, the Israeli smashed his rebound effort beyond the reach of Yarbrough and into the upper left corner. Kinda, Russell and Pulido all have half a dozen goals this year, making Sporting one of only three clubs to feature a trio of players with at least six goals in 2020.
Gerso provided arguably the game’s finest bit of brilliance in the 93rd minute. The diminutive winger took a pass from Hurtado at the midfield circle, swiveled past defender Auston Trusty at midfield and embarked on a lung-busting 50-yard run at goal while shrugging off a challenge from Wilson. Gerso’s finish was sublime, as he chipped Yarbrough for his third goal of the campaign and the final score of a memorable night at Children’s Mercy Park.
2020 MLS Regular Season
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 41 degrees and cloudy
|Sporting Kansas City (10-6-3, 33 points)||0||4||4|
|Colorado Rapids (5-5-4, 19 points)||0||0||0|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Jaylin Lindsey, Roberto Puncec, Andreu Fontas, Amadou Dia; Ilie Sanchez, Gadi Kinda (Cam Duke 90'), Roger Espinoza (Felipe Hernandez 81'); Johnny Russell (C) (Gerso Fernandes 90'), Alan Pulido (Erik Hurtado 81'), Gianluca Busio (Khiry Shelton 70')
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Matt Besler, Luis Martins
Colorado Rapids: William Yarbrough; Keegan Rosenberry (Jeremy Kelly 75'), Lalas Abubakar (Auston Trusty 75'), Danny Wilson, Sam Vines; Collen Warner (Nicolas Mezquida 28'), Jack Price (C); Younes Namli (Jonathan Lewis 75'), Cole Bassett, Andre Shinyashiki (Nicolas Benezet 66'); Diego Rubio
Subs Not Used: Clint Irwin, Steven Beitashour, Drew Moor, Matthew Hundley
SKC -- Alan Pulido 6 (Roger Espinoza 2) 54'
SKC -- Andreu Fontas 1 (unassisted) 67'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda 6 (unassisted) 88'
SKC -- Gerso Fernandes 3 (unassisted) 90+3'
SKC -- Amadou Dia (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 11'
COL -- Collen Warner (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 23'
COL -- Lalas Abubakar (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 47'
SKC -- Khiry Shelton (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 74'
SKC -- Jaylin Lindsey (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 85'
SKC -- Gerso Fernandes (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 90+4'
|Shots on Goal||12||2|
Referee: Drew Fischer
Assistant Referee: Ian McKay
Assistant Referee: Matthew Nelson
Fourth Official: Victor Rivas
VAR: Sorin Stoica
AVAR: Tom Felice