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Sporting KC II Bounced from Playoffs by Austin FC II

Sporting Kansas City II’s season came to an end early in the first round of the MLS Next Pro playoffs against Austin FC II.



Credit: Thad Bell

Sporting Kansas City II ensured at least one KC soccer team made the playoffs on Friday night. They started post-season play back at Rock Chalk Park hosting the fourth seeded Austin FC II who was a surprise selection with the two and three seeds getting to pick their opponents from teams four through seven. The surprise selection actually took a home game away from Austin and gifted one to cross-state rivals St. Louis City SC 2.

For the starting lineup, three first team Sporting KC players made the trip with another three on the bench. Cam Duke, Danny Flores and Chris Rindov were in the starting eleven with Ozzie Cisneros, Felipe Hernandez and Stephen Afrifa on the bench. The team’s second leading scorer Alenis Vargas and promising right back Mikey Lenis were both out with injury.

Austin FC II also had players (let’s not pretend I know who these kids are).

First Half

Sporting KC II came out in a back three/five for the second straight week. With Robbie Voloder not on loan, Jahan Rad replaced him in the starting lineup next to Nassim Mekideche (LCB) and Chris Rindov (RCB). Vitor Dias, who can apparently play all the positions (besides CB and GK according to Benny) played LWB and Lucas Rosa played RWB.

SKC II had the majority of the control early on, pinging passes in and around the Austin defense. In the 19th minute it became abundantly clear that the ref was going to let them play. Cam Duke was taken down hard on a counterattack and the cards stayed in the ref’s pocket. In the next minute there were shouts for a handball on the edge of the box on an Ethan Bryant shot but that too would go uncalled and Lucas Rosa’s shot would go well wide.

A few minutes later Sporting KC II would have their best chance up to that point when Rosa would find the head of leading scorer Pau Vidal who would force a diving save out of the Austin keeper.

While SKC II remained in control of the attacking opportunities, they had some nervy moments after that. First, Nassim Mekideche tried to play a header back to his goalkeeper Ethan Bandre and it almost resulted in an own goal. Then minutes later he was the first player in the book in the 32nd minute after a turnover and bad step forced him to pull down the Austin attacker.

The game would be very chippy for the next 13 minutes (and well beyond honestly) before another chance would materialize. It came off of a poor goal kick from Austin right to Ethan Bryant who intercepted and immediately found Vidal who quickly turned and shot wide of the net.

Austin’s Pinaeu was the first Austin player to pick up a yellow card after one of the numerous late challenges finally resulted in some discipline (Feilhaber could audibly be heard very upset with the referee many times throughout the half). The half would end with Sporting being called for an astonishing 10 fouls to Austin’s five. ATX actually dominated possession with 60.6 percent in their favor, but it was SKC II up seven to two in shots. Regardless, it was nil-nil at the half.

Second Half

The first quality chance of the second half came in the 51st minute on yet another SKC II fast break. Sebastian Cruz dribbled hard at the defense before laying it off to Cam Duke. Duke cut the ball back to an on rushing Danny Flores who curled a shot to the far post, but the keeper was again up to the task.

Despite all the chances, it would be Austin who would strike first. Sporting KC II got a little stretched with their high press. In particular, Nassim headed the ball, but it ended up with Austin and he was way up the field away from his CB position. David Rodriguez would make KC pay with a well-placed ball in the corner of the net.

The 57th minute brought the game’s first sub, and it was first-team player for first-team player. Felipe Hernandez replaced Flores with everything to play for. In the 60th minute Cam Duke earned a free kick in a dangerous spot outside the box. Wingback and set piece specialist Rosa stepped up but again his chance is pushed over the bar!

Moments later, near disaster was averted after Jahon Rad was dispossessed after making a poor decision to not pass back out of the pressure. Rodriguez had the ball fall to him, and he had an overwhelming odd man rush but instead tried to take it himself and hit it right to Bandre. In the 68th and 69th minutes SKC II made a double sub. Originally it was going to be Josh Coan for Rad, but Mekideche went down moments before the sub and left the game instead. Vitor Dias was taken off for SKC Academy talent, Nati Clarke. This led to a back four instead of a back five to try and recover the goal SKC II were down.

In the 76th minute, Josh Coan was taken down hard, wide left of the 18-yard-box. Just a bit after a hard foul on the right side of the box. Neither resulted in a card, despite stopping attacks, and both free kicks were poorly taken. To make matters worse, Vidal took a shove in the back outside of the frame of the lone camera and he went down injured. No foul given. Vidal had to sub off for Sporting KC first round pick Stephen Afrifa. 

Things went from bad to worse for SKC II when Jahon Rad committed a PK on the edge of the box. It was another situation where Sporting KC II were pushing hard for a goal and got caught on the counter. Austin would convert to put them up 2-0 late.

The final minutes were full of chaos. Benny Feilhaber went into the book for something (Update: after the game he said he yelled at the ref and was carded for dissent). Then Stephen Afrifa was knocked to the ground in the box and after a long-delay the ref pointed to the corner. Moments later, Josh Coan would find a box in the Man City zone and force another save from the keeper. After that, Afrifa got on the end of a header putting it just wide.

The game would end 2-0 with SKC II being eliminated at home in the first round after a strong season.

After the game the KC Soccer Journal was able to talk to Coach Feilhaber and we’ll have more on the II’s in the coming weeks.

What We Learned from Sporting KC II in 2023

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