Courtesy of Sporting Kansas City
Johnny Russell scored a sensational free kick to help second-place Sporting Kansas City (11-4-7, 40 points) claim a 1-1 draw with the third-place Colorado Rapids (11-4-5, 38 points) in a fiercely contested Western Conference showdown on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Jonathan Lewis fired Colorado ahead with a close-range finish in the 17th minute, but Russell’s brilliant 25-yard blast restored parity four minutes before halftime as Sporting extended their MLS unbeaten run to six matches and ended the month of August without a league loss.
With a hard-earned point in the bag, Sporting will now prepare for another marquee battle in the Western Conference as Manager Peter Vermes’ side visits LAFC (6-9-6, 24 points) on Friday night at Banc of California Stadium. The contest will kick off at 9 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, UniMas and TUDN.
Vermes made two changes to Sporting’s lineup from a 0-0 stalemate at Minnesota United FC last weekend as MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi replaced Khiry Shelton on the wing and Roger Espinoza, taking the defensive midfield role for the first time in a Sporting uniform, stepped in for the suspended Remi Walter.
The Rapids entered Saturday on a three-match road winning streak, the club’s longest since 2000, and drew first blood with their lone shot on target of the night. Lewis slithered into the box and saw his initial shot blocked by the sliding Graham Zusi, but an inviting rebound allowed the U.S. international to slot home from eight yards and put Sporting behind the eight ball.
Salloi, who leads MLS with 18 combined goals and assists this season, almost conjured an equalizer in the 34th minute when he swiftly beat Colorado defender Lalas Abubakar and unleashed a right-footed piledriver that Colorado goalkeeper William Yarbrough parried over the woodwork. A few minutes later, Russell rose to meet Gadi Kinda’s in-swinging corner kick and planted a header off the top of the crossbar and out of play.
Russell leveled terms at 1-1 in the 41st minute after Kinda drew a foul 25 yards from goal. The Scottish forward took full advantage by curling a sublime free kick over the Colorado wall and into the top right corner, leaving Yarbrough stranded between the posts. Russell’s four goals off direct free kicks are tied for second most in MLS since 2019 and his 29 career regular season goals are tied with Zusi for ninth most in club history. Sporting has also extended its team record by scoring in 26 consecutive regular season home matches dating back to August 2019.
Saturday’s Retro Night encounter ebbed and flowed during an entertaining second half as both sides had chances go begging. Sporting were first to threaten after the restart, with Salloi cutting past Colorado center back Auston Trusty at the endline and forcing a near-post save from Yarbrough.
Colorado responded by going close on two occasions near the hour mark. Andre Shinyashiki embarked on a blazing run down the right wing and uncorked a low cross that somehow eluded both Lewis and Mark Anthony-Kaye inside the six-yard area. Not long later, Kaye pounced on a Sporting giveaway and hammered a 20-yard shot off the goal post, with Colorado right back Keegan Rosenberry lashing his rebound effort marginally wide.
Sporting striker Alan Pulido showcased his quality in the late stages, first by winning possession in the attacking third and sending a thunderous strike a yard wide into the side netting. With 89 minutes on the clock, the Mexican international created one of the biggest chances of the night as he beat Yarbrough to the ball along the left endline and clipped a decadent ball to the opposite post for Russell. Sporting’s captain managed to get a sliding touch to the ball, but Trusty was stationed on the goal line for a crucial clearance that exasperated the 19,883 Kansas City fans in attendance.
The Rapids spurned a final opportunity on the final consequential play of the game. Substitute Michael Barrios sprung behind the Sporting defense and squared the ball to an open Cole Bassett, who could only rifle his open shot onto the crossbar with an empty net in front of him.
Sporting leads MLS with 19 points from losing positions in 2019 and has just two losses since mid-May, going 9-2-6 over their last 17 games. Vermes’ side has also pushed its unbeaten run against Colorado to six meetings dating back to July 2020.