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It’s a start! Sporting Kansas City defeats Austin FC

Sporting Kansas City began the match with the looks of a side determined to begin anew after dropping 10 of their last 11, including three straight.



Thad Bell Photography

In an evening reminiscient of the “old times”, Sporting Kansas City honored club institution Roger Espinoza, jumped on top early, and never let visiting Austin FC into the match in a 2-0 victory at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Tim Leibold and Stephen Afrifa, on a vintage assist from Johnny Russell, took the honors and the defense did the rest. The second win in three home matches and the first in four total is a start.

A balanced midfield trio of Jake Davis, Erik Thommy, and Nemanja Radoja, fresh blood in Marinos Tzionis, and the return of striker Alan Pulido were all good signs for fans hoping for new energy at a stale Children’s Mercy Park:

And Sporting began the match with the looks of a side determined to begin anew after dropping 10 of their last 11, including three straight. Movement was spry and desire raw. Good thing too, for this was the first of seven matches in 22 days, which includes a US Open Cup quarter-final July 10 v FC Dallas. Would it last?

Although it would be Austin who fired the first shot in the 16th minute, Sporting would have the first real chance. Pulido was taken down at the top of Austin’s box 23 yards out. Johnny Russell stepped up and eked his shot just over the bar.

More chances would follow with a free kick and two subsequent corners. But shots from Tzionis and Russell would go wanting.

Then the fortuitous. Left back Tim Leibold took down the ball with one touch then shot from inside the box with power. The shot ricocheted off Austin’s #17 Jon Gallagher and inside the far netting to give Sporting a well-needed first goal of the match. The last time Sporting jumped on top in the regular season was May 18 at Austin FC.

Yet, moments of head in hands are still… probable. In the 39th minute, left center back Robert Voloder’s errant pass out of the back put Austin in on goal. However, his center back partner Dany Rosero, looking like his early season-self, was there to deny the visitors.

By the 45th minute, Sporting KC had outshot Austin 8-1 with three corners to their credit and Austin none. If the in-match form stays true, Sporting could gain their first shutout in 18 matches.

The two sides exchanged could-have-been-dangerous rushes in the 57th and 60th minute. Austin’s fizzled when Sebastian Driussi played behind Jader Obrian in the box, and Kansas City’s when Thommy, trying to cross for Pulido in the box, was blocked.

Sporting Manager Peter Vermes shuffled the deck as Memo Rodriguez entered for Davis and Stephen Afrifa for Tzionis in the 62nd minute.

The 23-year-old Toronto native would raise the odds of a Sporting victory soon thereafter. Rodriguez stepped in front of an Austin pass just inside his own midfield before dishing off to Russell. The veteran Scot flicked the ball sneakily past his mark and was off to the races. Approaching the box, Russell spied Afrifa at the backpost and found him with the outside of his left boot for an easy finish in the 69th minute.

A two-goal lead for Sporting Kansas City at home. A beautiful, coolish summer evening. It seemed too good to be true.

Now to finish the job with a shutout. To this point Austin had taken only two shots, directly in line with their bottom ranking in shots and shots on goal in MLS.

The 80th minute saw Willy Agada step on for Pulido.

Sporting created a few fleeting chances in the minutes that remained, including four minutes of stoppage time. Most importantly for a side that had allowed four goals in each of their last three matches, they preserved the shutout.

The fans, and players, left happy. The win indeed was a start. Of what will remain to be seen.

Sporting will next take on Colorado Rapids on Thursday, July 4, in Commerce City, Colorado, at 830pm.


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