Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo met on Saturday night in a must-win match for Sporting KC’s playoff hopes. With the US Open Cup final on Wednesday, Houston featured a rotated side with five changes from their previous match. Sporting, missing Designated Player, Alan Pulido, started a forward line featuring Willy Agada, Khiry Shelton, and Johnny Russell. Gadi Kinda rotated into the starting lineup to try to introduce creativity into the KC attack.
Sporting nearly struck gold in the fourth minute when Erik Thommy uncorked a shot on the volley that forced Houston keeper, Steve Clark, into an acrobatic save. Upon review, Thommy’s shot struck a Houston defender and the VAR directed Chris Penso to review the shot and decide if Sporting was entitled to a penalty kick. After a short look, Penso pointed to the spot and gave the home team a spot kick. Johnny Russell stepped up to take the kick and he blasted his shot into the bottom right corner to give the home team the lead 1-0 in the 7th minute.
In the 9th minute, Houston clipped a cross into the box. During his effort to punch the cross, Tim Melia collided with Dany Rosero, leaving both on the pitch in a heap. After checking Melia for a concussion, the medical staff cleared the keeper and he returned to the field, along with Rosero.
Willy Agada nearly doubled the lead in the 16th minute. Khiry Shelton drove into the box and pushed to the endline. He cut a ball back across the box and found the foot of the striker, who skied his one-time shot at point blank range. In the 19th minute, Sporting rang the woodwork with a gorgeous Erik Thommy volley on a recycled ball off a set-piece. There were shouts for a penalty for a foul on Rosero but ultimately it went unrewarded.
Shortly after Houston rocked the woodwork with a long distance shot of their own but the score remained 1-0. In the 25th minute, Houston struck a cross-shot that lifted over Melia’s hand and struck the post for the third time in the match. Fortunately for the hosts, the ball spun away from goal and Kansas City attempted to build out of the back and find safety.
Houston, playing for home field advantage in the playoffs, grew into the game and started to put the sporting Kansas City defense under pressure. Houston ripped another shot at goal but Tim Melia was able to push it aside. Erik Thommy then led a 2 v. 2 break and found a streaking Willy Agada but the striker’s cross was ultimately cleared.
Houston continued to press Sporting hard, and following a turnover in the midfield by Gadi Kinda, Nemanja Radoja earned a yellow card for a bad foul on a slide tackle to win the ball back. The ensuing set piece flew out for a goal kick after Gadi Kinda shielded the Dynamo target from the ball. In the 36th minute, Johnny Russell made a crunching tackle along the sideline. He got the ball but cleared out the Dynamo player. VAR called Chris Penso over for a review of a possible red card for serious foul play. After a nearly two minute review, Chris Penso gave a straight red card to the Sporting KC captain. I’m probably supposed to be more impartial as I write these, but this is an absolutely asinine ruling. Russell clearly got the ball first and the movement of the ball led Russell’s boot into the shin of Nelson The AppleTV announcers also found this booking to be unnecessarily harsh.
Despite being down a man, Sporting again almost doubled their lead when Nemanja Radoja found Khiry Shelton on a perfectly through ball over the top. Khiry took it first time with his right foot but Steve Clark rushed to make himself big and saved the shot.
As the first half wound to a close, the fourth official raised the board indicating 12 minutes of stoppage time. After another good save by Tim Melia, Gadi Kinda collected the ball in the box and attempted to race to safety. He was shoulder checked by Franco Escobar who earned a yellow for his excellent American football tackle.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sporting finally broke through with their second goal. The play started with Khiry Shelton reading a soft Houston pass along the left side. He raced forward and picked out Gadi Kinda with an inch perfect switch. Kinda combined with Erik Thommy who then found Khiry Shelton. Shelton put the ball back into the box and it found Willy Agada wide open in the box. He didn’t miss this time and smashed the ball into the net. 2-0 Sporting with only ten men and seemingly a lifetime before the halftime whistle.
Houston immediately pulled one back on a set piece after Radoja made an unnecessary foul. Hector Herrera’s ball found Dany Rosero who popped it directly into the air. The ball fell to the ground and found the foot of Teenage Hadebe who knocked it off the underside of the crossbar and across the line.
After a really chippy end to the first half, Chris Penso finally blew the whistle and I was given a fifteen minute break from his awful officiating. At halftime, Sporting led on xG 2.41 to 0.42. Houston dominated possession but Sporting led in shots and goals.
Peter Vermes made his first substitution at halftime, swapping Remi Walter for Willy Agada. Houston made two changes, bringing on forward Corey Baird for Quinones (sorry, I don’t know how to do a tilde), and Micael for Teenage Hadebe.
Sporting was inches away from securing their third goal when Erik Thommy found Jake Davis racing down the right side. Davis slid the ball back through to Thommy in the box who put his shot just wide of the far post.
After an inadvertent handball on Radoja about 30 yards from goal, Houston had another chance at a set piece. Hector Herrera had a go at the goal with a lengthy run up that made one wonder if Herrera thought he was David Luiz. Tim Melia gobbled up the ball and Sporting maintained their lead.
Houston continued to pressure Kansas City and in the 60th minute, Ben Olsen introduced Arthur for Kowalczyk. Peter Vermes countered one minute later with Roger Espinoza replacing Radoja and Daniel Salloi replacing Gadi Kinda. The Dynamo found another chance after a beautiful sequence of passing ended with Corey Baird putting a shot on frame. Tim Melia was able to get down to his left and collect the ball, keeping the score 2-1.
Ben Olsen made another change in the 69th minute replacing striker Ibrahim Aliyu with midfielder Griffin Dorsey. Sporting enjoyed a small spell of possession deep in the Houston third, with Jake Davis, Erik Thommy, and Khiry Shelton forming a triangle to keep possession and burn clock. Erik Thommy earned a yellow card for time wasting in the 73rd minute for taking too much time before serving in a corner kick. His ensuing kick sailed over the box and eventually found Ndenbe. Griffin Dorsey tackled Roger Espinoza going for a loose ball and earned himself a yellow card. Chris Penso earned a sarcastic cheer from the crowd for this piece of officiating.
Penso again chose to reach into his pocket and booked Peter Vermes for dissent in the 75th minute. Vermes responded by using some colorful language as Hector Herrera was substituted for Ivan Franco.
With about 11 minutes left, Sporting again came close to putting the game to bed. Logan Ndenbe picked out Daniel Salloi with a perfect cross into the box. Salloi took a great touch, made a skillful turn, and uncorked a shot that rolled inches wide of the Houston goal.
In the 83rd minute, Luis Caicedo fouled Roger Espinoza by undercutting him on a header. This earned him a booking and will be a one game suspension for Caicedo in the next MLS match. Erik Thommy, after earning a foul in the midfield, was substituted in the 86th minute for Felipe Gutierrez. Andreu Fontas committed a rough foul on Carasquilla which led to a dangerous Houston set piece. Kansas City as able to clear their lines. Sporting’s possession was short-lived and Dany Rosero earned himself a place in the book with a late challenge on Bartlow.
The Dynamo continued to press for an equalizer as regular time clicked away. A Houston corner was served into the box as the five additional minutes of stoppage time began. The corner sailed over the box but Houston retained possession and continued to ask questions of the Sporting KC defense. Tim Melia made a massive save after Houston centerback Bartlow was played in behind the SKC defense. Bartlow found Corey Baird who was 1 v 1 with the keeper. Melia made a kick save and potentially saved the season. Corey Baird and his teeth snatched the ball from Daniel Salloi who made a meal of it and hoped to waste some additional time with shithousery. Salloi was booked for the exchange and Houston took one final set piece attempt. The ball was cleared and Chris Penso blew for the final whistle. Sporting Kansas City took all three points and ended the evening one point back of the final playoff spot.