Sixteen-year-old Gianluca Busio notched a dramatic equalizer on Sunday night as Sporting Kansas City (2-1-3, 9 points) battled the reigning Supporters’ Shield champion New York Red Bulls (1-3-2, 5 points) to an enthralling 2-2 draw at Children’s Mercy Park.
Johnny Russell had fired Sporting ahead in the 24th minute with his fourth goal of the season, but New York flipped the script after halftime through Daniel Royer’s 52nd-minute strike and Brian White’s 75th-minute header. Busio then marked his second-half introduction with a crucial goal two minutes from full time, scoring in his third straight MLS appearance to produce a share of the spoils and help Sporting extend their unbeaten run to five league matches.
Busio’s late intervention was the final twist in a back-and-forth affair that pitted the 2018 first-place finishers in the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively. The nationally televised clash on FS1 also served as a rematch of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, which saw Sporting prevail in a 2-1 nail biter on home soil.
Three days after bowing out of the Concacaf Champions League in a semifinal defeat to Monterrey, Sporting were eager to atone and took an early stranglehold against the visiting Red Bulls. An immediate spell of pressure saw Felipe Gutierrez force a diving save from New York goalkeeper Luis Robles, who was busy between the pipes throughout the first half. Russell then diced through defenders Connor Lade and Aaron Long before dragging his shot inches wide of the right post.
The Red Bulls seldom threatened in the opening stanza but thought they had grabbed the lead on 16 minutes when Bradley Wright-Phillips slotted home off a Michael Murillo cross. Wright-Phillips had scored eight goals in nine previous appearances against Sporting, but this one was overturned as the Englishman was flagged offside.
Playing their fifth match in 16 days, Sporting showed no signs of fatigue during a dominant first-half spell that ultimately produced the game’s first goal. Zusi’s throw-in from the right sideline found Krisztian Nemeth, who cushioned an inch-perfect pass through to Russell. The 29-year-old finished with aplomb from a tight angle, striking low across Robles for his 14th career regular season goal. Nemeth tallied his first assist on the play, while Zusi picked up the 64th helper of his heralded regular-season career.
Yohan Croizet represented the lone change to Sporting’s lineup from Thursday, stepping in for Seth Sinovic at left back, and almost doubled his side’s advantage in stunning fashion on the half-hour mark. The Frenchman unleashed a dipping strike from 30 yards, prompting Robles into an acrobatic fingertip save that kept the score 1-0. The veteran gloveman spared his team’s blushes again in the 33rd minute, sprawling to push aside Nemeth’s turf-trimmer after the hosts worked the ball through the heart of the New York defense.
New York had entered Sunday with a three-game losing streak and successfully avoided a fourth straight defeat thanks to an improved performance in the second half. Royer restored parity seven minutes after the restart, running onto Cristian Casseres’ looping long ball before rounding Tim Melia and finishing for his team-best fifth goal of the year in all competitions.
Russell nearly bagged his second of the evening in the 63rd minute, playing an incisive give-and-go with Nemeth along the right side of the box, only to see his curling effort miss by the slimmest of margins. Sporting would rue the misfire 12 minutes later when the Red Bulls surged in front.
Three minutes after replacing Wright-Phillips, White planted a header into the corner of the net for his first goal of the campaign. Kaku recorded the assist with an inch-perfect cross from the left flank, putting Manager Peter Vermes’ men behind the proverbial eight-ball heading into the final quarter-hour.
Busio made his impact-and more history-with 88 minutes on the clock. Seven days after becoming the youngest MLS player to score in consecutive league matches, the 16-year-old struck again to pull Sporting level. Zusi’s low drive through a crowded penalty area reached the opportunistic Sporting KC Academy product, who coolly steered the ball home from close range to record his fourth career MLS goal and ignite celebrations across the stadium.
The scoring was over but the fireworks were not, as a mass confrontation broke out in stoppage time after Kaku advertently rifled the ball into the crowd. The midfielder was punished by referee Robert Sibiga with a straight red card for violent conduct, forcing the Red Bulls to sweat out the dying embers down a man.
Having faced three straight MLS clubs from the East, Sporting will now prepare for a Western Conference road battle next Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes. Vermes’ side is 5-0-2 versus San Jose in the last seven meetings and will aim to improve upon that record in a 9 p.m. CT matchup at Avaya Stadium, slated to air live on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.