(Aug. 17, 2019) — Second-half goals from Benny Feilhaber and Graham Smith lifted Sporting Kansas City to a 2-1 comeback victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at electric Children’s Mercy Park.
San Jose (11-9-5, 38 points) grabbed a first-half lead through serial goal scorer Chris Wondolowski, but Sporting (8-11-7, 31 points) staged a spirited rally after the break as Feilhaber equalized with a sweetly struck half-volley before Smith bagged his first professional goal to give the hosts three precious points in a thriller that saw both sides combine for 44 shot attempts.
The much-needed win lifts Sporting within six points of the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with eight regular season matches still to play. The Earthquakes remain above the playoff line in sixth place, having suffered their 12th loss in their last 13 regular season visits to Kansas City dating back to 2004.
Selecting a matchday squad for the third time in eight days, Manager Peter Vermes made three changes to the starting lineup from Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at Orlando City SC. Left back Luis Martins landed his first MLS start, Feilhaber returned to the midfield and Erik Hurtado reprised center forward duties as Seth Sinovic, Ilie Sanchez and Gianluca Busio dropped to the substitutes bench. One day after announcing his retirement from the Honduras Men’s National Team, veteran Roger Espinoza notably logged his 274th Sporting appearance in all competitions, taking sole possession of fourth place in club history.
Saturday’s clash was a tale of two halves, and the visitors asserted early control with Cristian Espinoza and Magnus Eriksson threatening to draw first blood inside 10 minutes. San Jose would find their breakthrough in the 25th minute thanks to the all-time leading goal scorer in MLS history. Wondolowski shook free of his marker inside the box, latched onto Espinoza’s corner kick and steered an emphatic header off the left post and into the net for his 154th career MLS goal.
Put behind the eight-ball, Sporting ventured forward on the half-hour mark as Jimmy Medranda and Johnny Russell combined twice in quick succession on the edge of the 18. However, Russell’s header flashed wide and Medranda’s drive through traffic was blocked, and the Earthquakes nearly doubled their advantage on 43 minutes when Vako embarked on a mazy run before seeing his shot deflected behind for a corner kick.
The script was flipped in the second half as a revitalized Sporting side gained an emphatic foothold. San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega did brilliantly to save Russell’s dipping volley in the 47th minute, but he could do nothing about the equalizer three minutes later.
Feilhaber, an integral member of Sporting’s nucleus during a trophy-laden run from 2013-2017, notched his first goal since returning to the club in May with a sublime half volley from the top of the box. His strike culminated off a clever buildup involving Russell and Medranda, both of whom were credited with assists on the play.
Petulance permeated proceedings midway through the second half as referee Drew Fischer brandished his yellow card three times in the space of six minutes. Sporting kept their foot on the pedal and went agonizingly close in the 71st minute when substitute Daniel Salloi played a lovely back-heel path into the path of Espinoza, but his lunging shot was kick-saved by Vega.
Children’s Mercy Park erupted when Smith opened his professional scoring account in the 76th minute. Russell’s curling free kick on the right edge of the penalty area rattled the woodwork, but the 23-year-old defender was on hand to poke home the rebound and lift Sporting in front. The tidy finish would ultimately stand as the game-winner, marking the first time Vermes’ men have claimed victory after conceding the first goal this season.
The back-and-forth affair offered up a few scares for Sporting in the dying embers. Eriksson’s side volley off an Espinoza cross looped just over the crossbar and onto the roof of the net in the 90th minute, shortly before Melia produced a vital save to deny substitute Danny Hoesen. Fischer blew his full-time whistle with more than 94 minutes played, igniting celebrations throughout the stadium.
Another quick turnaround awaits as Sporting now looks ahead to a Rivalry Week showdown with Minnesota United FC (12-8-6, 42 points) on Thursday at Children’s Mercy Park. The Western Conference tilt will kick off at 8:30 p.m. CT and tickets remain available at SeatGeek.com. ESPN and ESPN Deportes will televise the contest nationally as part of a mouthwatering MLS Rivalry Week slate, featuring the league’s most compelling matchups across the ESPN and FOX networks.