Goalkeeper Tim Melia had a season-high seven saves and forwards Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton opened their 2021 scoring accounts with late goals as Sporting Kansas City (8-3-2, 26 points) moved atop the Supporters’ Shield standings by posting a resolute 2-0 road victory over the LA Galaxy (7-4-0, 21 points) on Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park.
On an evening that saw the Galaxy unleash 18 shot attempts and threaten numerous times over the course of 90 minutes, Melia delivered his finest performance of the year and Sporting showcased an opportunistic killer instinct as Russell nodded the hosts ahead in the 81st minute and Shelton put the result out of reach deep into stoppage time.
Sunday’s 2-0 triumph gives Sporting an MLS-leading eighth win of the 2021 campaign and vaults Manager Peter Vermes’ men into a first-place tie with Seattle Sounders FC heading into a two-week international break for the Concacaf Gold Cup. Victors in three straight matches and six of their last eight, Sporting have now bagged three game-winning goals after the 80th minute this season.
Playing on the Fourth of July for the 14th time in team history, Sporting Kansas City rolled out a lineup that featured two changes from last Saturday’s 2-1 home win over LAFC. Injured right back Jaylin Lindsey made way for Graham Zusi, who notably logged his club-record 300th regular season appearance, while Khiry Shelton started at the center of a three-man attack with Alan Pulido absent due to international obligations with the Mexico Men’s National Team.
Pulido was one of three Mexicans to miss the match for Concacaf Gold Cup duty alongside LA Galaxy duo Efrain Alvarez and Jonathan dos Santos. The Galaxy were hit by an additional loss shortly before kickoff as star striker and MLS Golden Boot leader Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was a late injury scratch, summoning the insertion of homegrown forward Ethan Zubak.
The visitors survived two early scares within seven minutes. LA threw their first punch by creating a turnover that allowed Samuel Grandsir to deliver a cross from the right wing, but captain Victor Vazquez could only volley his shot inches high at point-blank range. Shortly thereafter, Grandsir galloped down the sideline and pulled the trigger from the right side of the box, prompting Melia to parry the ball over the crossbar. Melia would deny the Frenchman once more midway through the first half, sprawling left to smother his near-post effort.
Sporting gradually gained a foothold of their own, although the Galaxy again went close to taking the lead with a flurry of chances near the half-hour mark. Kevin Cabral’s leaping header off a floated diagonal delivery from Vazquez carried marginally wide before Melia produced three stops during a breathless and nervy sequence. The 35-year-old did well to thwart Zubak’s header and Vazquez’s low drive through traffic, then Grandsir’s strike rattled through Melia’s legs and skipped a fraction off target.
Shelton provided a spark five minutes into the second half, manhandling his defender and breaking goalward only to see his lunging shot repelled by LA goalkeeper Jonathan Bond. Sporting retained possession on the play and Roger Espinoza’s long-distance blast off a Felipe Hernandez feed skied high.
The Galaxy were back on the front foot in the 56th minute. After Melia punched away Grandsir’s low cross, Vazquez dragged a shot that Zusi crucially cleared off the goal line. Moments later, Julian Araujo’s left-footed piledriver sizzled over the bar and Cabral’s speculative 25-yarder was corralled by Melia.
Grandsir then showcased his blistering pace in the 62nd minute, skipping down the flank and pulling the ball back for Vazquez, but the Spaniard’s curler at the top of the box missed by the slimmest of margins. Ilie was next to step up heroically a few minutes later, sticking out a leg to deflect Sebastian Lletget’s stinging strike wide of the mark.
The game turned on its head with 10 minutes remaining. Espinoza’s flick-on header from Gianluca Busio’s tantalizing set piece was saved brilliantly by the outstretched Bond, and although Andreu Fontas had lurked to the far post for the rebound, his header on the doorstep pinged off the post.
Sporting were rewarded for their late surge in the 81st minute when Hernandez’s high press forced a Galaxy turnover. Russell scooped up possession and fired a shot at Bond, who parried the ball into the air. Sporting’s captain did wonderfully to react instinctively and steer a looping header over the advanced Bond and into the far corner of the gaping net for the match-winner. The goal was Russell’s first since Sept. 23, 2020, and his first on the road since March 17, 2019.
Seeking an equalizer, LA committed numbers forward in the dying embers of the contest and were caught on the counterattack in the 95th minute. Busio’s booming clearance upfield found Shelton, who beat a defender and embarked on a lung-busting breakaway run before finishing coolly past Bond to seal all three points.
Sporting will enjoy a period of rest and recuperation prior to resuming their regular season campaign on July 21 when the San Jose Earthquakes visits Children’s Mercy Park at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the game are available at SeatGeek.com , including family four-packs, as Vermes’ side begins a busy stretch of late-summer fixtures in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.