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Four get June jumping for Sporting Kansas City in win over Austin FC



Alan Pulido
Thad Bell Photography

May was madness, the good kind for Sporting Kansas City, and now June is jumping. Sporting entertained the home fans while entertaining Austin FC Saturday night in Kansas City during a stirring 4-1 victory. A brace from Alan Pulido and markers from Robert Castellanos and Khiry Shelton highlighted the dynamic attacking play and combined with a concerted and combative defense with more than a dash of hard work, the day was won for the home side.

Take note, Sporting Kansas City is on the rise in MLS. After clearing May with 13 points in six matches (4-1-1), Kansas City now (4-8-5) sits 12th in the Western Conference, withing a scant two points of a playoff spot. It is the unfathomable after a dark, dark start February thru April. And one of those teams sitting on a playoff spot at 19 points is Austin FC, the guests Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Yet, Austin own a 3-1-1 record in the regular season series v Sporting KC since Austin joined MLS as an expansion side in 2021, winning each of the last three meetings. The Verde and Black have won three of their last five in MLS play after a dark spell (0-4-4) of their own from mid-March to Mid-May.

Sporting Manager Peter Vermes put these eleven on the pitch to start:

Tim Leibold at left back and Robert Voloder at left center back were necessary changes from last week’s 1-1 draw at Vancouver Whitecaps due to injury. Otherwise, the starting eleven remained.

Rain cascaded onto the pitch at the opening whistle, but it was not until the 9th minute that a threatening shot was fired. Irishman Jon Gallagher skimmed a worrying shot from the top right of Kansas City’s box past Kendall McIntosh’s back post into safety for the first real threat.

Sporting found most joy up the right flank early on via Marinos Tzionis and right back Jake Davis, yet nothing of substance was delivered through drops.

In the 19th minute, Kansas City earned a corner off a deep ball to Leibold on the left wing. After service to the back post, Castellanos headed the ball centrally, and hopefully. Ever alert, striker Alan Pulido came back for the ball to hit from eight yards and to find the back of the net for the opening salvo. The goal was Pulido’s second in two games and third on the season.


Although Erik Thommy’s pace on the ball on forays up the right wing and Austin striker Gyasi Zardes’ constant movement in the final third kept opposing defenses wary and fans into the match, few of the final products from either side elicited oohs and aahs from the stands by minute thirty-seven.

For their part, Kansas City’s wingers and midfielders held a tight and compact line while defending in their own end. The clear objective was to force Austin wide and avoid penetration into Argentine playmaker and 2022 MLS MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi and former US International Zardes.

The second half began, well, like any home fan would want it to. Thommy whipped in a free kick from the right wing 28 yards out that skipped by Pulido and another.  Right center back Castellanos, who was having the match of his season already, poached at the back post with a low drive at a sharp angle to put Sporting in the driver’s seat two minutes into the 2nd half. The question quickly became, “What would the home side do with such an early advantage?”

Add to it, of course! The play began from Voloder as the German played a beautiful ball right into country man Leibold’s stride down the left flank in the 57th minute. Leibold saw Pulido running and served for the Mexican. Pulido recovered from a difficult first touch to skillfully finish with the outside of his right boot for the 3-0 lead.

Driussi, as he is want to do, pulled one back for Austin four minutes later to put in doubt a rout on the night.

The intensity and combativeness of the match ratcheted up a few notches after the exchange of goals, as a few fouls and a few yellows followed. Sporting’s ball movement and subsequent possession tempered any flares from the Verde and Black as Kansas City reset the match to their tempo and their control.

To restore fresh legs up top, Khiry Shelton came on for Pulido in the 77th to a well-deserved ovation from the fervent faithful.

Shelton got in on the fun as well. After feeding Thommy on the break, Shelton kept runnin up the gut as Thommy carried forward into Austin’s box. Thommy’s effort was blocked by goalkeeper Brad Stuver, but Shelton’s effort was rewarded with a tap in.

Vermes inserted Roger Espinoza and Felipe Hernandez for Leibold and Thommy after the goal just before the final whistle.

Sporting, now 5-8-5 and in 8th place in the live standings, will be back at it again next Saturday to host Los Angeles FC at Children’s Mercy Park.


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