Sporting Kansas City’s run in the historic MLS is Back Tournament ended Thursday with a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to the Philadelphia Union at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World.
The Union struck three times in the space of 15 minutes to build a commanding first-half lead, and although Alan Pulido pulled a goal back on the stroke of intermission, Philadelphia emerged victorious to reach the semifinals and eliminate Sporting from the competition.
With Sporting’s participation in the MLS is Back Tournament now complete, the club will begin preparations for the resumption of the 2020 MLS campaign later this summer. MLS plans to continue its 25th season with a revised schedule, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and Audi MLS Cup. More details will be announced in the near term.
Manager Peter Vermes made two lineup changes from Sunday’s penalty shootout win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC by giving starts to Homegrown duo Gianluca Busio and Daniel Salloi, who replaced Gadi Kinda and Khiry Shelton, respectively. Busio was involved in Sporting’s first notable attack at the 18-minute mark, creating a turnover to set up Pulido, but the Mexican’s low drive from the right edge of the box was smothered by Philadelphia goalkeeper and MLS saves leader Andre Blake.
In the 24th minute, the Union drew first blood and ended Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia’s MLS shutout streak at 429-minutes dating back to Feb. 29. A flowing move involving Santos, Ray Gaddis and Alejandro Bedoya was finished off by Jamiro Monteiro, who slotted into a gaping net off Bedoya’s cross. Philadelphia doubled their advantage just two minutes later, as Santos galloped free on a counterattack following a Sporting set piece and tucked a right-footed shot into the left corner of the net.
Santos bagged his second goal of the night and his third of the tournament on 39 minutes, racing onto Brenden Aaronson’s diagonal through ball and side-footing a first-time effort just inside the near post.
Facing a three-goal deficit, Sporting responded with a much-needed tally of their own seconds before halftime. Shortly after Blake sprawled out to push aside Johnny Russell’s long-range blast, the Sporting winger found a pocket of space on the right flank and curled a delightful cross to the far post. Pulido was on hand to steer a diving header past Blake for his team-leading fourth goal of the season in all competitions.
Vermes’ men began the second half brightly and Pulido nearly notched his brace in glorious fashion four minutes after the restart. His 28-yard free kick bent over Philadelphia’s four-man wall and had Blake well beaten, but the ball smacked off the post and denied the Mexican what would have been a glorious strike.
Russell and Pulido continued asking questions of the Union defense, and Sporting thought they had made the score 3-2 in the 57th minute. Russell did brilliantly to beat multiple defenders along the right endline before crossing low to Pulido, whose sliding attempt was blocked by Blake. The rebound was poked home by Russell, but the forward was deemed to have been in an offside position.
A pair of second-half substitutes conjured threats of their own as Sporting remained on the front foot, with Kinda and Gerso Fernandes both seeing their left-footed efforts turned away by Blake.