By Sam Kovzan – SportingKC.com
Sporting Kansas City (2-6-1, 7 points) and the Columbus Crew (2-3-3, 9 points) snapped their three-match losing streaks by playing to a 0-0 draw on Saturday night at rain-drenched Children’s Mercy Park.
In a tightly contested battle that was paused in the second half for 47 minutes due to inclement weather, Sporting posted its third shutout in four home games this year by limiting the Crew to a single shot on target. The result pushes Sporting’s record against Columbus to 7-1-3 in the last 11 regular season meetings since 2013.
Sporting received a personnel boost with the return of holding midfielder Uri Rosell, who had worked his way back from a lingering hamstring injury. The Spaniard accounted for one of two lineup changes from last Sunday’s 3-1 road loss to LAFC, with diminutive winger Marinos Tzionis dropping to the bench and center back Kortne Ford replacing Andreu Fontas for his first start at Children’s Mercy Park in a Sporting uniform.
Elsewhere, a host of Sporting veterans hit notable milestones on Saturday, chief among them Scottish captain Johnny Russell who logged his 500th professional appearance for club and country. Midfielder Roger Espinoza passed Matt Besler for second in club history with his 295th regular season appearance, while right back Graham Zusi tied Besler atop Kansas City’s all-time charts with his 285th regular season start.
The hosts suffered a twist of misfortune inside the first three minutes as center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin suffered a head injury in a midfield collision with Columbus winger James Igbekeme. The end result was Sporting’s first ever concussion substitution, summoning 20-year-old German defender Robert Voloder for his Children’s Mercy Park debut.
Not long after Isimat-Mirin’s exit, Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia—who jumped to seventh on the club’s all-time charts with his 204th regular season start—did well to sprawl right and corral a thumping effort by Crew striker Miguel Berry. Columbus threatened once more at the 15-minute mark when Berry was played through on goal, but Ford’s impeccably timed slide tackle inside the penalty area extinguished the danger.
The next several minutes unfolded in pedestrian fashion, but a flashbulb moment occurred near halftime. As the skies began to open with torrential rainfall, Remi Walter ran onto a delightful Voloder long ball and hit the turf under a clumsy challenge from Columbus left back Pedro Santos inside the box. Despite the move, referee Fotis Bazakos shocked fans in attendance by waving away Sporting’s penalty kick protestations.
Sporting’s first shot attempt very nearly resulted in a goal. Zusi’s teasing free kick from the right channel found center forward Khiry Shelton, whose impressive diving header was smothered by outstretched Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room.
Tzionis entered as a second-half substitute and made a palpable impact in the 63rd minute, driving down the left side and pulling the ball back to Daniel Salloi, whose sizzling near-post strike was saved by Room’s outstretched foot.
Ford continued to excel in central defense and saved Sporting’s blushes once more with 15 minutes left, sliding to clear a low cross intended for Berry in the six-yard area just seconds before the game was halted due to lightning in the area.
Play restarted following the delay and Room was called into action on 83 minutes, diving left at full extension to palm the ball aside after Russell’s cross from the right flank was deflected goalward.
Sporting will return to Children’s Mercy Park next Saturday, April 30, playing host to FC Dallas (4-1-3, 15 points) in a 7:30 p.m. CT kickoff on 38 The Spot, the Sporting KC app and SportingKC.com. Tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com.