(Sept. 23, 2020) — Forward Johnny Russell scored for the third straight game on Wednesday night as Sporting Kansas City’s second-half rally fell short in a 2-1 defeat to Orlando City SC at Children’s Mercy Park.
In-form Orlando (7-2-4, 25 points) took a two-goal halftime lead through Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel, and although Russell grabbed a goal back early in the second half, Sporting (6-5-2, 20 points) were unable to conjure an equalizer as the Lions pushed their unbeaten run to seven matches.
Still within striking distance of first place in the Western Conference standings, Sporting will aim to bounce back Sunday with a trip to the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
With Luis Martins injured and Gianluca Busio suspended due to yellow card accumulation, left back Amadou Dia and holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez accounted for the two changes to Sporting Kansas City’s lineup from a 3-2 loss to FC Dallas on Saturday. Dia made his first start at Children’s Mercy Park since April 2016, while Ilie returned to the XI for the first time since the MLS is Back Tournament in July.
The game’s first flashbulb moment stemmed from a booming run through the central channel by Gadi Kinda, who drew a handball infraction on Orlando defender Rodrigo Schlegel in the 10th minute. Graham Zusi’s ensuing 25-yard free kick bent over the Lions’ four-man wall and flashed a yard wide of the left post, much to the relief of Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.
The visitors gained a foothold past the half-hour mark and struck twice in the space of two minutes. In the 36th minute, Akindele ran onto a through ball from Ruan and finished low across goalkeeper Tim Melia for his second tally of the season and his second goal in as many appearances against Sporting.
Portuguese talisman Nani orchestrated Orlando’s second goal seven minutes before the break, lifting a ball over the top for Michel to corral and slot into the corner for his fourth goal in five matches. Nani recorded his 14th career MLS assist on the play, having returned to Kansas City for the first time since losing a friendly to Sporting as a member of English side Manchester United in 2010.
The second half unfolded in a decidedly different manner, as Sporting wasted little time turning the tide. Within seconds of the restart, Gerso’s teasing cross from the left side was palmed onto the crossbar by Gallese and scrambled clear by the Orlando defense.
In the 53rd minute, Russell cut the Lions’ lead in half by recording his fourth goal in a torrid three-game span. Zusi floated a brilliant diagonal ball to Gerso, who settled into possession and whipped another pinpoint cross to the far post. Russell was on hand to steer a powerful header into the roof of the net, moving his team-leading goal haul to six on the year. Sporting has now scored in 13 straight matches to open the regular season, eclipsing the club record previously held in 2003 and 2008, and remains the only MLS team yet to be shut out in 2020.
Russell nearly bagged his second of the night on 60 minutes, combining neatly with Dia on the edge of the penalty area before dragging a shot wide of the frame. Sporting were given another boost shortly thereafter when Mexican striker Alan Pulido entered for his first appearance since Aug. 29 after missing four matches through injury.
Sporting continued to probe for a leveler, and in nearly came in the 67th minute off the right foot of Gadi Kinda. The Israeli received a pass from Gerso and laced a long-range firecracker that screamed inches wide with the outstretched Gallese firmly beaten.
Pulido thought he had restored parity in the 76th minute after burying a deflected effort off a Khiry Shelton pullback, but Shelton was flagged offside in the buildup and the goal was negated.
Manager Peter Vermes’ side kept its foot on the pedal into the dying embers of the contest, and Gerso almost produced a stunning equalizer in the 87th minute, only to see his 28-yard piledriver turned away by Gallese.