Sporting Kansas City II's 2023 season came to a close on Friday night when they suffered a 2-0 defeat to Austin FC II at Rock Chalk Park in the MLS NEXT Pro Western Conference Quarterfinals. After a scoreless first, Austin snuck one past Sporting KC II in the 52nd and then doubled the lead with a late penalty conversion.
It was an evenly matched contest with both teams firing 15 shots throughout the 90 minutes. 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year Damian Las made four saves on the night to keep SKC II off the scoreboard as the shots would not fall for the hosts.
Head coach Benny Feilhaber rolled out a starting XI in the same 5-2-3 formation that earned his side a Decision Day shootout victory over St. Louis CITY2. Ethan Bandre made his first appearance in goal since August 19 in a 1-0 win at home and made five saves on the night. Lucas Rosa, Nassim Mekideche, Jahon Rad, Chris Rindov and Vitor Dias comprised the back five while Danny Flores and Ethan Bryant played in the middle of the pitch. Sebastian Cruz, Pau Vidal and Cam Duke played in the front three.
Austin got off to a quick start in the attacking third with a shot on target from Micah Burton in the second minute. Bandre shuffled his feet a tad and secured the hard-hit shot with two hands into his stomach. In the 11th, Mekideche opted for a diving, headed clearance inside the 18 which Rosa tapped to Cruz who boomed the ball up the pitch. Vidal tried to win the ball out of the air but was whistled for dangerous play after an Austin defender dove head-first into the play.
SKC II's first shot came off the foot of the SKC Academy product Cruz. The winger pulled up from long range and skipped an effort along the turf just wide of Las's right-hand post. From the 20th to the 30th minute, it was all SKC II as they inched closer and closer to the breakthrough.
In the 20th, Dias got on the end of a back post ball before having his cutback deflected out of the box. Bryant latched onto the loose ball, pinging one off a defender's leg out to Rosa who crossed the ball through the six and out of play. A minute later, Vidal nearly got on the end of another cross before Bryant sent another shot toward the goal, this one high of the mark.
The 23rd produced SKC II's first corner, won by Dias, Austin dealt with it, however, the pressure was not quite alleviated. A delicious ball from Rosa dropped to Vidal in the 18 where he headed it down, on target, with pace. Somehow Las sprawled out far enough, and quick enough to smack the shot right off the goalline.
In the 30th, Mekideche attempted to head the ball back to Bandre and did so. Only he put a tad too much oomph into his back pass and forced the keeper into a save, which he made. The defender was then shown the first yellow card of the contest in the 32nd.
Alonso Ramirez, who would eventually sink his kick from the spot, rocketed one on target in the 43rd minute, forcing Bandre to punch the ball away with a closed fist. Vidal whistled a shot inches wide in the 44th after Bryant intercepted a poor pass coming from Austin's defensive half. Sebastian Pineau was then shown yellow right before half after a badly timed challenge on Rad. Halftime came without either side finding the back of the net despite several chances.
Coming out of the half, Austin made one swap, bringing on Bobosi Byaruhanga for Steeve Louis Jean. The Sporting KC II XI remained unchanged. Neither side broke free in the first five minutes until Cruz went for a run through the middle of the pitch to spring an attacking chance. He dropped the ball off to Duke who passed to Flores. The midfielder then generated space for a shot, bouncing at the far post, and off Las's paws.
Two minutes later, Austin scored on a long strike from David Rodriguez off the counter. A minute later, Cheick Toure was shown yellow and the subsequent restart skimmed off the top of Vidal's head and out of play. A minute following that, Vidal was played another pass that popped into the air off his shin, and into Las's grasp.
Feilhaber went to his bench for the first time in the 57th, bringing on first-team loanee and SKC II's all-time assists leader Felipe Hernandez for Flores. Rosa nearly scored his fourth worldie of the year on a free kick in the middle of the pitch right outside the arc. Again, Las's outstretched arms reached the ball in the nick of time for Austin as he punched it over the crossbar.
On the corner, a second ball was headed over the bar by Rindov as he and Meklideche were getting clattered into by the ATX II keeper. Another tantalizing ball into the Austin box ran too fast for Bryant as he could not get a shot off his foot. In the 67th, Mekideche put his body on the line to block a shot and stayed down after the play. He was subbed off for Josh Coan and Nati Clarke came on in the same moment for Dias.
Las snared a pair of crosses in the 71st and 73rd. Toure nearly picked up a second yellow for a hard foul on Coan but just received a talking-to from the official. In the final substitution moment for SKC II, Stephen Afrifa came on in place of Vidal. Austin had two chances in the 84th, the first being blocked by Rad and the second sailing off target.
A moment later, a counter for Austin resulted in a penalty kick after Rad was whistled for a foul right on the line of the 18. Ramirez made his kick, putting the ball into the right side of the goal. Las made his final save of the night in the 89, denying a one-timer from Coan from around the spot. Bandre made his final save in stoppage time on an awkward dipping shot.
Austin held onto the two-goal advantage for the rest of stoppage time and secured their spot in the Western Conference Semifinals. SKC II's 2023 campaign comes to a close after a year of immense development and growth. Second-year coaches Feilhaber and Ike Opara earned six more results than their first year and produced the second-highest-scoring offense in the league in the regular season. SKC II will now prepare for the 2024 season. Fans can stay up to date with everything happening with SKC II this offseason by following @SportingKCII on Twitter.
Sporting KC II
Austin FC II
Sporting Kansas City II: Ethan Bandre; Lucas Rosa, Nassim Mekideche (Josh Coan 69'), Jahon Rad, Chris Rindov, Vitor Dias (Nati Clarke 69'), Ethan Bryant, Danny Flores (Felipe Hernandez 57'), Sebastian Cruz, Pau Vidal (Stephen Afrifa 81'), Cam Duke
Subs Not Used: Carlito Saylon, Bakary Bagayoko, Ozzie Cisneros, Alex Cunningham, Cielo Tschantret
Austin FC II: Damian Las; Cheick Toure (Christopher Pinkham 90'), Joe Hafferty, Salvatore Mazzaferro, Charlie Asensio; Steeve Louis Jean (Bobosi Byaruhanga 46'), Alonso Ramirez, Valentin Noel, Micah Burton (Emmanuel Johnson 78'), David Rodriguez (Christo Vela 90+), Sebastian Pineau (Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez 78')
Subs Not Used: Spencer Sanderson, Anthony De Anda, Jonathan Santillan, Leo Torres
ATX – David Rodriguez (Bobosi Byaruhanga) 52'
ATX – Alonso Ramirez (penalty kick conversion) 86'
SKC – Nassim Mekideche (yellow card; tactical foul) 32'
ATX – Sebastien Pineau (yellow card; reckless offense) 44'
ATX – Cheick Toure (yellow card; reckless offense) 54'
ATX – Damian Las (yellow card; time wasting) 90+'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Brandon Stevis
Assistant Referee: Noah Kenyawani
Assistant Referee: Christian Clerc
Fourth Official: Karen Callado