Sporting Kansas City II (4-4-4, 18 points) took two points from an MLS NEXT Pro match against Tacoma Defiance (4-3-5, 20 points) Thursday evening at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence, KS. A thrilling 2-2 battle was capped by a 5-4 shootout win for head coach Benny Feilhaber's side as they earned their first result against Tacoma in MLS NEXT Pro play.
Ozzie Cisneros netted his third goal of the campaign to give the hosts the lead in the final moments of the first half before Tacoma leveled moments into the second. Pau Vidal entered as a substitute and scored on a tenacious effort for his team-high seventh goal of the season. Tacoma evened the score at two with a 76th-minute penalty and SKC II claimed that coveted extra point in kicks from the spot.
A first-team heavy lineup featuring seven loanees controlled the flow of the match for a majority of the contest, firing 23 shots and completing 186 passes in the final third to Tacoma's 11 shots and 79 final third passes. John Pulskamp made his 2023 SKC II debut after starting six matches in the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season. On the back four Chris Rindov was joined by Nassim Mekideche in the middle with Lucas Rosa and Nati Clarke playing out wide.
The midfield was comprised of a trio of loanees in Danny Flores, Cam Duke and Felipe Hernandez, making his first start of the season. Up top, 2023 MLS SuperDraft selection Stephen Afrifa played the nine while Cisneros and Alenis Vargas manned the wings.
Duke had the honor of taking the first shot of the contest five minutes into play. The Sporting KC Academy product had a look at goal from distance and sent the shot just wide of Defiance keeper Jacob Castro. A minute later, Duke had another look at goal off a rolled Hernandez cross to the spot. This attempt was defended by the Defiance and blocked away from danger.
Castro was called on to make a save in the 16th and was up to the task, blocking a rocket from Rosa down and collecting the scraps inside his six-yard box. Tacoma gained access to the SKC II 18 for the first time in the 21 but SKC Academy player Nati Clarke positioned himself well to deflect the cross and then clear it.
In the 26th Duke got involved in the attack again. This time he poked his shot on target with one touch after Cisneros found him inside the box. Somehow, Castro reacted quickly enough and reached out far enough to block the shot away from goal. In the 30th Flores ripped a half volley from the top of the box toward the frame where it was blocked in traffic. Afrifa had a shot meet a similar fate to Duke's when a redirect forced Castro into a tough reaction save.
Tacoma's most lethal attack thus far came on a Hal Uderitz headed corner after the defender used Mekideche as a launch pad. No foul was called but it did not make a difference as the glancing effort drifted off target. In the 42nd, SKC II cracked the Defiance defensive front and broke the deadlock.
An incredibly nifty turn in the midfield from Vargas sprung the attack for SKC II as the winger dashed into the area from the right side. He skipped a diagonal ball into Castro's path and the keeper took the bait, punching the ball back to the top of the six where Cisneros was waiting to sweep it up. Without missing a beat the midfielder tapped the ball into the open net and put SKC II out in front.
SKC II took the lead into the break and came out of halftime without making any changes. Tacoma on the other hand made four swaps, completely changing up their attack. It worked as the visitors scored not even two minutes into the half on a Paul Rothrock flick from close range.
Vargas looked to regain the lead for SKC II in the 48th, turning Tacoma over in the attacking third and breaking for goal. The Honduran's near post-blast was snuffed out by Castro. An eerily similar shot off the foot of Stephen Afrifa nearly burned Castro five minutes later, however, the effort was hit a tad high of the target from up close. Pulskamp kept the match level on the other end of the pitch when a Tacoma attack lingered in the SKC II box. The keeper followed the ball well, got back into the middle of his goal and secured the shot against his chest.
In the 61st the future goalscorer Vidal came on in place of Afrifa. Sebastian Cruz and Ethan Bryant entered the match as well taking off Hernandez and Vargas. Less than 10 minutes into the contest a non-threatening Mekideche clearance turned into Vidal's eighth goal of the campaign. The forward tracked the ball incredibly well, crossed up the retreating defender, ran onto the ball and broke for goal. Castro came off his line and Vidal cooly placed his shot into the far corner and the back of the net.
Tacoma would go on to even the score once more in the 77th on a converted penalty from their leading scorer Braudilio Rodrigues. That would be Tacoma's last look at goal in regulation. SKC II had three attacks all come up empty in the final 13 minutes before the shootout. In the aforementioned shootout, both teams sank their first two kicks before the third one was missed. Vidal got things back on track, sinking the fourth kick before Tacoma matched. Both of the fifth takers made and Cisneros cooly converted the sixth for SKC II. The woodwork was Pulskamp's friend on what would prove to be the final kick when Uderitz blasted it off the right pole giving SKC II two points.
With the result, Kansas City has earned five results in their last six matches and draws in three of their last four. It will be a quick turnaround for the group as they head to Los Angeles for a match with LAFC2 on Sunday evening. Kickoff in the Golden State will be at 7 p.m. CT and the match will stream live on MLSNEXTPro.com. SKC II will return to Rock Chalk Park on Sunday, May 26 for the team's first-ever Bark in the Park. Tickets are on sale at SeatGeek.com and all participants must fill out a waiver.
2023 MLS NEXT Pro | Match 12
Rock Chalk Park | Lawrence, KS
Weather: 84 degrees and sunny
Sporting KC II
Sporting Kansas City II: John Pulskamp; Lucas Rosa, Chris Rindov, Nassim Mekideche, Nati Clarke; Danny Flores, Felipe Hernandez (Ethan Bryant 61'), Cam Duke; Alenis Vargas (Sebastian Cruz 61'), Stephen Afrifa (Pau Vidal 61'), Ozzie Cisneros
Subs Not Used: Ethan Bandre, Josh Coan, Vitor Dias, Andrew Draper, Enzo Mauriz, Jahon Rad
Tacoma Defiance: Jacob Castro; Stuart Hawkins, Hal Uderitz, Elias Katsaros; Adolfo Ovalle (Frank Daroma 46'), Joshua Atencio, Dylan Teves, Cody Baker (Travian Sousa 60'); Chris Aquino (Antonio Herrera 45'), Eythor Bjorglfsson (Paul Rothrock 45'), Georgi Minoungou (Braudilio Rodrigues 45')
Subs Not Used: Wallis Lapsley, Snyder Brunell, Raul Miglietti
SKC – Ozzie Cisneros 3 (unassisted) 42'
TAC – Paul Rothrock 2 (Braudilio Rodrigues 1) 47'
SKC – Pau Vidal 7 (Nassim Mekideche 1) 68'
TAC – Braudilio Rodrigues 6 (Penalty Kick) 76'
SKC – Ethan Bryant (converted)
TAC – Dylan Teves (converted)SKC – Danny Flores (converted)
TAC – Braudilio Rodrigues (converted)SKC – Lucas Rosa (missed)TAC – Antonio Herrera (saved)SKC – Pau Vidal (converted)
TAC – Travian Sousa (converted)SKC – Chris Rindov (converted)
TAC – Paul Rothrock (converted)SKC – Ozzie Cisneros (converted)
TAC – Hal Uderitz (missed)
Shots on Goal
Referee: Drew Klemp
Assistant Referee: Melissa Gonzalez
Assistant Referee: Matthew Rodman
Fourth Official: Velimir Stefanovic