Sporting Kansas City (1-1-1, 4 points) suffered their first setback of the 2021 MLS season on Saturday, surrendering an early lead in a 3-1 road defeat to rivals Real Salt Lake (2-0-0, 6 points) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
After striker Alan Pulido fired Sporting ahead within the first 20 minutes, Real Salt Lake responded through Damir Kreilach and secured all three points thanks to Rubio Rubin’s second-half double. The result snapped Sporting’s eight-match regular season unbeaten run and five-game regular season road unbeaten run dating back to 2020—both of which were the longest active streaks in MLS.
A new-look Sporting Kansas City lineup featured four changes from a 1-1 home draw against Orlando City SC on April 23. Nineteen-year-old Sporting KC Academy product Kaveh Rad notably earned his MLS debut in central defense, Ilie Sanchez made his first appearance of 2021 in the defensive midfield, and Sporting’s attack received a major boost as Pulido and captain Johnny Russell logged their first starts of the year after recovering from preseason injuries. Joining Russell and Pulido up top was Khiry Shelton, who played his 50th match for the club in all competitions.
The visitors drew first blood on a wonderfully orchestrated move in the 17th minute. Luis Martins won possession in the defensive third and played short to Remi Walter, who squeezed an incisive pass to Pulido that broke RSL’s midfield line. The Mexican international drove forward and spread the ball right to the galloping Shelton, who whipped in a low cross that Gianluca Busio dummied with guile to freeze the RSL defense. Without breaking a stride, the on-running Pulido was on hand to side-foot a cool finish past goalkeeper David Ochoa for his first goal of 2021.
Parity was restored 10 minutes before halftime when RSL converted their first shot on target. MLS debutant Andrew Brody, who had entered the contest five minutes earlier in place of injured right back Aaron Herrera, floated a looping cross into the penalty area from the right wing, allowing Kreilach to steer a bouncing header beyond outstretched goalkeeper John Pulskamp and into the corner of the net. Kreilach tabbed his 27th career regular season goal on the play, while Brody claimed an assist five minutes into his maiden MLS appearance.
RSL squandered a golden opportunity to surge ahead two minutes after the restart when newly acquired winger Anderson Julio—who bagged a brace in his MLS debut to spark a 2-1 road win over Minnesota United FC last weekend—nodded wayward from point blank range following a clever Rubin delivery. Seconds later, Julio forced a solid save from Pulskamp after combining with Kreilach on the edge of the penalty area.
Head coach Freddy Suarez’s men were rewarded for their strong start to the second period with 52 minutes on the clock. Kreilach maneuvered his way down the left channel and clipped a ball across the face of goal that fell to Rubin at the far post. The former U.S. international forward took a touch and struck low between Pulskamp’s legs as RSL grabbed a 2-1 lead.
Still on the front foot, RSL had two fleeting looks to double their advantage midway through the half, but neither Albert Rusnak nor Rubin were able to test Pulskamp with their speculative efforts off well-worked build-ups.
Unable to gain a foothold of their own, Sporting were pegged back once more in the 77th minute as Rubin pocketed his second goal of the game in impressive fashion. The forward found space on the left edge of the box, shook free of Rad and Jaylin Lindsey and slotted low inside the near post to put the result out of reach.
Sporting will look to bounce back next Sunday, May 9, when expansion side Austin FC visits Children’s Mercy Park for a marquee Western Conference clash at Children’s Mercy Park. A limited number of tickets for the 6:30 p.m. CT showdown are available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting plays host to another national television audience on FS1, FOX Deportes and the FOX Sports app.