Sporting Kansas City II (0-1-0, 0 points) suffered a defeat in stoppage time to Colorado Rapids 2 (1-0-0, 3 points) Sunday night at DICK'S Sporting Good's Park in the opening match of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season. Nassim Mekideche netted the first goal of the regular season 11 minutes into the match, however, two second-half scores from the hosts, including a stoppage-time winner from Blake Malone, had the visitors leaving Colorado empty-handed.
Head coach Benny Feilhaber started a lineup nearly identical to the club's final preseason match last Sunday with one change being first-team loanee Kendall McIntosh tending the goal. A back four comprised of Lucas Rosa, Jahon Rad, Nassim Mekideche and Diedie Traore was joined by a midfield trio of Enzo Mauriz, Ethan Bryant and Josh Coan. The front three consisted of Sebastian Cruz on the right, Amadou Traore on the left and Bakary Bagayoko playing the nine.
HIGHLIGHTS: Colorado Rapids 2 vs. Sporting KC II | March 26, 2023
In the first five minutes, former Sporting KC Academy player Mauriz jump-started a dangerous-looking attack. The midfielder intercepted a pass and took off through the midfield. He spread the ball wide to Bryant who wasted no time playing a searching pass all the way across the box to A. Traore. The winger skillfully took control and ripped a shot on target forcing Rapids 2 goalkeeper Abraham Rodriguez into a difficult kick save.
Marlon Vargas, a 2022 MLS NEXT Pro best XI member tried to get the home team on the board but was contained well by Rosa on SKC II's right side and was only able to plunk a cross into McIntosh's waiting arms. Moments later Mekideche broke the deadlock.
A foul right on the cusp of the attacking third gave Coan and SKC II a free kick. Coan dropped the ball right into the six, allowing the formidable defender to hit a one-touch shot past the helpless keeper for SKC II's first goal of the campaign.
SKC II stayed on the attack with Coan firing a shot on target just two minutes after picking up his first assist of the season. In the 16th Bagayoko was ripped down from behind while trying to get on the end of A. Traore's through ball. The foul was committed right on the line of the penalty area but the ref deemed that the infraction took place outside the 18. Aboubacar Keita was booked with the match's first yellow and SKC II lined up for another free kick in a dangerous area. This time Rosa was teed up by Mauriz and his hot shot was barely tipped over the bar by Rodriguez.
In the 26th Keita was forced out of the match after picking up a knock and Malone entered the contest. Mekideche picked up a yellow for a foul in the 28th and McIntosh was called into action again as he dove off his line to punch away a corner kick that was won off that Rapids 2 free kick. In the 30th minute, A. Traore, playing on the right side, cut up a pair of Rapids 2 defenders and fired a shot on target which Rodriguez knocked away.
McIntosh made a pair of saves and Coan was shown a yellow card for a tactical foul before things picked up once more. A Rapids 2 free kick was sent on goal under the wall but McIntosh, at full extension, was there to make an incredible save. On the other end, Coan broke free and nearly burned Rodriguez, but somehow the back-peddling keeper got a hand on the chipped effort. That was the final attack of the first half as the break came with SKC II ahead by one.
Colorado came out of the half aggressively looking for the equalizer. D. Traore was the third and final SKC II member to be shown yellow, stifling a Rapids 2 advancement in the process. McIntosh made another save, denying an Oliver Larraz hurried shot from close range. Calvin Harris slipped behind the SKC II back four, found himself in a one-on-one with McIntosh and blasted his shot high of the goal. In the 59th, Colorado got the leveler they were searching for when Yosuke Hanya finished a rebound that caromed off the woodwork.
A little under five minutes later and Feilhaber went to his bench bringing on Pau Vidal, Andrew Draper and first-team loanee Ozzie Cisneros for Bagayoko, A. Trarore and Ethan Bryant. McIntosh's fifth and final save of the night was a brilliant play in which he pawed a shot away while diving and then smartly smacked the loose ball away from an oncoming attacker. Cisneros got involved in SKC II's final third when he dribbled the ball into the area and found Cruz out wide. The forward's cutback was deflected on target by a defender, kept out by Rodriguez's leg and then smothered by the keeper.
Malone was given a yellow for time-wasting in the 71st and a minute later Coan continued to threaten the Rapids 2 defense with set-piece deliveries. This one, coming off a corner, bounced in the six-yard box, was bashed on target twice, blocked both times and cleared over the endline. D. Traore's day came to a close when he was replaced by Sporting Kansas City Academy player Leo Christiano. The defender's first professional appearance nearly produced his first pro goal when a cross drifted toward the goal and plunked off the crossbar and out of bounds.
The final SKC II sub entered as Aljaz Dzankic returned to the lineup after missing a majority of last season due to knee surgery. Rapids 2 found their winner in the 91st when Malone got on the end of a deflected shot and tucked it into the back of the net right on the cusp of penalties.
SKC II will return home to take on Austin FC II Sunday, April 2 at Rock Chalk Park. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. CT and tickets are available for purchase on SeatGeek.com.
2023 MLS NEXT Pro | Match 1
DICK'S Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO
Weather: 37 degrees
Sporting KC II
Sporting Kansas City II: Kendall McIntosh; Lucas Rosa, Jahon Rad, Nassim Mekideche, Diedie Traore (Leo Christiano 73'); Enzo Mauriz (Aljaz Dzankic 85'), Josh Coan, Ethan Bryant (Ozzie Cisneros 63'); Sebastian Cruz, Bakary Bagayoko (Pau Vidal 63'), Amadou Traore (Andrew Draper 63')
Subs Not Used: Ethan Bandre, Nati Clarke, Mikey Lenis
Colorado Rapids 2: Abraham Rodriguez; Sebastian Anderson, Michael Edwards, Aboubacar Keita (Blake Malone 26'), Anthony Markanich (Jackson Travis 63'); Robinson Aguirre, Oliver Larraz, Yosuke Hanya, Connor Miller, Calvin Harris; Marlon Vargas (Caique 85')
Subs Not Used: Adam Beaudray, Daouda Amadou, Logan Batiste, Keith Chavarria, Steve Flores, Pariss Mitchell
SKC – Nassim Mekideche 1 (Josh Coan 1) 11'
COL – Yosuke Hanya 1 (unassisted) 59'
COL – Blake Malone 1 (unassisted) 90+1'
COL – Aboubacar Keita (yellow card; unsporting conduct) 17'
SKC – Nassim Mekideche (yellow card; unsporting conduct) 28'
SKC – Josh Coan (yellow card; unsporting conduct) 42'
SKC – Diedie Traore (yellow card; unsporting conduct) 50'
COL – Blake Malone (yellow card; time wasting) 71'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Velimir Stefanovic
Assistant Referee: Art Arustamyan
Assistant Referee: Mario Garcia
Fourth Official: Adam Rice