Sporting Kansas City (2-1-1, 7 points) staged a stunning fightback on Sunday night at electric Children’s Mercy Park, erasing a late deficit to secure a 2-1 victory in a pulsating battle against upstart expansion club Austin FC (2-2-0, 6 points).
After Jon Gallagher vaulted Austin into an early lead, Sporting seized attacking initiative and were rewarded for their dominance with an 82nd-minute equalizer from Ilie Sanchez and a dramatic 90-minute winner off the head of substitute Gadi Kinda. The last-gasp comeback marked the first time Sporting had won an MLS match when trailing past the 80th minute since June 2018 and lifts Manager Peter Vermes’ side into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference table.
Sunday’s instant classic served as a Sporting reunion for Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff, assistant Davy Arnaud and starting center back Matt Besler, all of whom starred for Kansas City as players during their heralded MLS careers. The visitors were facing a Sporting side that made four lineup changes from last weekend’s road loss to Real Salt Lake, with defenders Roberto Puncec and Graham Zusi joining the backline, Roger Espinoza bolstering the midfield and Daniel Salloi slotting into the attack.
Zusi’s inclusion in the starting XI — his first MLS match since suffering a long-term foot injury against Chicago Fire FC on Oct, 7, 2020 — notably vaulted him past longtime teammate Besler and into sole possession of first place in Sporting history with 295 regular season appearances for the club.
A frantic first half saw Sporting conjure the first major opportunity within five minutes. Logging his 100th Sporting appearance in all competitions, captain Johnny Russell slipped a delectable through ball into the path of striker Alan Pulido, who rounded onrushing goalkeeper Brad Stuver only to see his effort from a remarkably tight angle skip wide into the side netting.
Sporting were left ruing the miss just two minutes later when Austin opened the scoring. Afforded space on the right sideline, Jared Stroud whipped a diagonal ball across the field for Gallagher, who took a touch and finished low past goalkeeper John Pulskamp for his goal in an Austin uniform.
The visitors nearly produced an instant equalizer, as Salloi did well to chest down a floated delivery from Pulido and fire a blistering 13-yard strike over the crossbar in the ninth minute. Not long later, Austin FC Designated Player Cecilio Dominguez summoned Pulskamp into a pair of lunging saves with long-range belters from outside the box.
Busio was on the receiving end of golden chances in the 17th and 23rd minutes, both of which were supplied by the lively Zusi. The 18-year-old’s left-footed attempt was cast aside by the outstretched Stuver, six minutes before his unmarked header carried inches over the woodwork. Busio asked yet another question of the Austin defense near the half-hour mark, winning a loose ball and prompting Stuver to drop low for another save.
Seconds after Busio planted his header wayward, Stuver did brilliantly to stick out his foot and deny Salloi in a one-on-one breakaway. The back-and-forth spectacle continued to entertain, as Austin midfielder Tomas Pochettino’s blast from distance rattled the underside of the crossbar in the 34th minute.
Sporting finished the night with 25 shot attempts — two more than their first three games of the season combined — and took a stranglehold of proceedings in the late stages, but not before Pulskamp made a smart save to thwart Stroud on a quickfire Austin counter attack in the 48th minute. Shortly thereafter, Dominguez bucked forward and dragged a left-footed shot marginally wide of Pulskamp’s left-hand post.
Sporting’s frustration was compounded on 58 minutes when another chance went begging. Busio’s high pressure created a turnover and forced Austin midfielder Alex Ring into a meaty tackle that redirected the ball invitingly to Salloi, whose side-footed snapshot drifted off target by slim margins.
The complexion of the game changed in the 67th minute when Ring received his marching orders for a second bookable offense, this time clipping Ilie from behind near midfield. The play reduced Austin to 10 men and opened the door for Sporting to lay ceaseless siege on the visitors’ goal.
Salloi was desperately unlucky not to level terms in the 74th minute, combining with Busio on the edge of the box before unleashing a smoothly struck curler that was touched onto the crossbar by Stuver’s fingertips. Four minutes later, Busio’s in-swinging corner took a glance to the far post and was headed back across the face of goal by substitute Kaveh Rad. Fellow center back Andreu Fontas was well positioned to steer home but prodded his header a few inches high.
Sporting’s cathartic breakthrough came with 82 minutes on the clock, as Ilie leapt to nod Russell’s corner kick past Stuver and inside the near post. Ilie tallied his first goal since July 2019 on the play, extending the club’s home scoring streak to 19 consecutive regular season matches.
With a boisterous crowd pushing the hosts forward in search of a winner, Sporting grabbed exactly that in the final minute of normal time. Substitute Khiry Shelton’s flicked header off a cross from Luis Martins found an open Kinda, who made no mistake nodding into the back of the net for his second goal of the 2021 campaign. The momentous goal sparked scenes of celebration across the stadium, and although Sporting spurned a pair of chances to add icing to the cake in second-half stoppage time, the 2-1 result would stand until the full-time whistle.
Vermes’ men will face a quick turnaround next week, visiting rivals Houston Dynamo FC (1-2-1, 4 points) in at 7:30 p.m. CT showdown at BBVA Stadium. The Western Conference clash will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app