Sporting Kansas City II (7-5-5, 29 points) took home a massive three points on Sunday night, getting the better of Earthquakes II (6-7-4, 25 points) at Rock Chalk Park by way of a 2-1 scoreline. Pau Vidal netted his 10th goal of the season, tied for the MLS NEXT Pro lead and Sebastian Cruz found the back of the net for a second time in 2023.
With the three points Sporting KC II moves four points clear of Quakes II in the Western Conference Standings after starting the night just one point ahead of the Pacific Division side. Vidal and Cruz's first half strikes proved to be enough for the home side as the visitors tried to level in the second.
Head coach Benny Feilhaber started seven first-team loannes for the third time on the campaign. John Pulskamp stood between the posts as the team's goalkeeper and earned his fourth straight result. Kayden Pierre started his third match of the year, played his first full 90 and picked up an assist. He was joined on the backline by Chris Rindov, Robert Castellanos and Nati Clarke. The midfield was all first-teamers with Danny Flores, Cam Duke and Ozzie Cisneros starting. Vidal played the nine, Cruz was on the right and Amadou Traore made his first start since April, playing on the left.
The honor of the first shot went to San Jose's Rodolfo Castro in just the fifth minute. The attacker found himself in space and opted for a near post attempt which he scuffed wide of Pulskamp's goal. Quakes II kept the pressure applied in the 14th, forcing Rindov into a heroic goalline clearance after a shot got past Pulskamp. Jerry Ayon, who would go on to score the visitor's lone goal, chopped an effort past the outstretched arms of Pulskamp but right into the leg of Rindov. Pulskamp then went on to make his first of two saves a minute later, safely securing a headed effort from Castro after a bit of a bobble on the initial save.
Despite the consistent attacks from Quakes II, Vidal and SKC II went on to score the first goal of the contest in the 22nd minute. Traore, cutting inside from the right, saw his shot redirect on target, forcing Eric De La Cerda into a tough save. The keeper's block trickled into the middle of the area where Vidal fought through contact and buried the ball in the back of the net for his 10th goal of the year and the SKC II lead.
Just three minutes later, Cruz got his goal after a brilliant run from Pierre. The Homegrown defender Pierre glided through the midfield, leaving a defender in the dust, before slipping the ball out wide to Cruz. The fellow Academy product took one touch towards the endline and blasted a shot near post, tucking it neatly in between the goalie and the post to double the lead.
On the hunt for more, Traore fired one from just beyond the box into the waiting keeper's hands in the middle of his goal. Cisneros then served one up, trying to pick out the lower right corner of the goal where De La Cerda dove to block the shot. On the other end of the pitch, Castro ripped one well high of the target. On the edge of halftime, Castellanos made a terrific defensive play, drifting over to the right side of the box to take the ball off Alex Chow's foot and win a goalkick. The halftime whistle came almost immediately after the first-team defender's efforts.
Feilhaber made one swap at the half, bringing on Ethan Bryant for Traore, playing the Texas native in his natural midfield spot and bumping Cisneros out wide to fill in the gap vacated by Traore. In the 48th Cruz nearly picked up his own assist, dropping an inch-perfect ball to Duke in the 18 where the homegrown's shot was saved by De La Cerda.
The post was Pulskamp's friend in the 52nd when a missile off the foot of Roberto Hategan ricocheted off the woodwork and away from danger. Quakes II found more fortunate not even a minute later when Ayon netted his first goal of the season, placing a shot in the far corner to half the visiting side's deficit.
Four minutes after the goal, San Jose almost equalized with a close-range, headed shot that Pulskamp caught, dropping down to one knee to secure the attempt. The Honduran duo of Keny Martinez and Alenis Vargas entered the match in the 63rd, replacing Vidal and Cisneros. Vargas would go on to give the San Jose defense fits, nearly picking up a goal and an assist, but somehow was denied both.
The first of these endeavors came in the 69th and was started by a Martinez run across the pitch and pass to Bryant. After Bryant found Vargas' run into the box the Honduran hammered one on target. The keeper somehow got enough strength behind the ball, pushing it off the crossbar with enough pace to roll out on the opposite sideline.
Cruz then saw two ventures at goal go wanting in the 73rd minute. The first came following a flawless Flores pass to Vargas. The winger cut the ball back to Cruz across the goal mouth where his effort was chopped on target and blocked away. An identical ball from Vargas inside the six to Cruz was nearly hit on frame but kicked away by a sliding defender in the final moment. In that same minute, Bryant had a shot saved from range after meandering his way inside the attacking third. Lucas Rosa replaced Clarke in the 76th and immediately won a corner which San Jose snuffed out.
The final 10 minutes remained open, however, neither side could muster any true chances at goal. Nassim Mekideche came on as SKC II's final sub taking off Flores. Castellanos made a second superb, sliding stop in the 88th, intercepting a through ball and playing Duke who was able to poke the ball along up the field. A foul in the final minute of stoppage time gave San Jose one last gasp. With all players either on the ball or in the box, Pulskamp boldly broke from his line and punched the ball away, allowing the referee to blow the final whistle and secure the win for SKC II.
Coming off the home win, Sporting KC II will travel to Arlington, Texas for a meeting with North Texas SC on Saturday, July 22 at Choctaw Stadium. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. CT and fans can stream all of the action on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Live updates will also be provided by @SportingKCII on Twitter throughout the contest.
Sporting KC II
Sporting Kansas City II: John Pulskamp; Kayden Pierre, Robert Castellanos, Chris Rindov, Nati Clarke (Lucas Rosa 76'); Danny Flores (Nassim Mekideche 87'), Ozzie Cisneros (Alenis Vargas 63'), Cam Duke; Sebastian Cruz, Pau Vidal (Keny Martinez 63'), Amadou Traore (Ethan Bryant 46')
Subs Not Used: Ethan Bandre, Vitor Dias, Enzo Mauriz, Jahon Rad
Earthquakes II: Eric De La Cerda; Aaron Edwards (Israel Carrillo 60'), Alejandro Cano, Nathan Rodrigues, Giancarlo Mota Morfin (Martin Kwende Jr. 76'); Alex Chow (Roberto Hategan 46'), Edwym Mendoza, Jerry Ayon, Eduardo Blancas (Jermaine Spivey 86'); Jose Serrano (Sebastian Carbajal 86'), Rodolfo Castro
Subs Not Used: John Nicolson, Rohan Rajagopal
SKC –Pau Vidal 10 (unassisted) 22'
SKC – Sebastian Cruz 2 (Kayden Pierre 1) 25'
SJ - Jerry Ayon 1 (Aaron Edwards 1) 53'
SJ – Alex Chow (yellow card; tactical foul)
SJ – Rodolfo Castro (yellow card; tactical foul)
SKC – Amadou Traore (yellow card; reckless offense)
SKC – Keny Martinez (yellow card; reckless offense)
SKC – Sebastian Cruz (yellow card; reckless offense)
Shots on Goal
Referee: Shawn Tehini
Assistant Referee: Cameron Siler
Assistant Referee: Eric Wood
Fourth Official: Drew Klemp