Courtesy of Sporting Kansas City
Long-range goals from Felipe Hernandez and Graham Zusi propelled Sporting Kansas City (4-9-4, 16 points) to a momentous 2-1 victory over Nashville SC (6-5-5, 23 points) on Sunday afternoon at sunny GEODIS Park in Nashville, Tennessee.
The result gave Sporting their first road win since Oct. 23, 2021, and snapped Nashville’s 25-match home unbeaten run in all competitions dating back to November 2020. Hernandez, who grew up in Nashville prior to joining the Sporting Kansas City Academy as a youth, fired his team ahead in the 41st minute and Zusi bagged a world-class winner six minutes into the second half, rendering Ake Loba’s 63rd-minute strike inconsequential.
With Sunday’s triumph in the bag, Sporting has now handed seven different MLS teams their first ever regular season defeat in their current stadium: Toronto FC in 2007, Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake in 2009, Houston Dynamo FC in 2012, New York City FC in 2015, LAFC in 2018 and Nashville SC this year after the club had been previously unbeaten in five league games at the new GEODIS Park.
After missing last weekend’s home defeat to the New England Revolution, Sporting winger and 2021 league MVP finalist Daniel Salloi returned to the squad for his 100th career start in MLS competition. He accounted for one of four Sporting Kansas City lineup changes as striker Khiry Shelton and central defenders Andreu Fontas and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin also entered the fray. Roger Espinoza, Kortne Ford, Robert Voloder dropped to the bench and Uri Rosell was unavailable due to a red card suspension.
Overcoming a hamstring injury to make his first since May 14, Shelton nearly opened the scoring in glorious fashion after 28 minutes. Left back Logan Ndenbe won an aerial duel and cushioned a header to the feet of Sporting’s center forward, who cut the ball onto his right foot and unleashed a 22-yard curler that Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis was forced to tip over the crossbar.
Sporting continued to grow into the game and took the lead through Hernandez, who had returned to his hometown of Nashville for his second professional match in the city. Over three years after scoring against Nashville SC as a member of the Swope Park Rangers in the USL Championship, Hernandez struck again by driving a 40-yard free kick into the mixer from a central position. The ball fizzed past a swarm of bodies untouched and skipped beyond the outstretched Willis into the right corner of the net. Sporting has now scored direct free kick goals in consecutive matches, with captain Johnny Russell doing so a week earlier versus New England.
A stout first-half performance saw Sporting hand Nashville its first halftime deficit at home since June 23, 2021, coincidentally the same date of Hernandez’s last MLS goal. Riding the favorable side of momentum, the visitors doubled their advantage on a world-class strike from Zusi.
Afforded space on the right edge of the box, Zusi darted onto his weaker left foot and and sent a sublime 24-yard strike into the far left corner for his first regular season goal since July 17, 2020, and his first in all competitions since scoring spectacularly from distance in a playoff victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Nov. 20, 2021. The stunning effort was Zusi’s 10th career MLS goal from outside of the box and marked the first time all season that Sporting had led by two goals.
Hernandez had his eyes on a brace and almost extended Sporting’s cushion to 3-0 in the 58th minute, powering into the penalty area and steering Salloi’s cross marginally wide of Willis’ right-hand post.
Nashville grabbed a lifeline in the 63rd minute as Sporting paid for a midfield giveaway. Hany Mukhtar galloped goalward on the counter attack and prompted goalkeeper Tim Melia into a strong save, but halftime substitute Ake Loba was on hand to thrash the rebound into the roof of the net for his second career MLS tally and his first of the 2022 campaign. It was also the eight goal scored by a sub against Sporting this year, the most in MLS.
Sporting were unfortunate not to restore their two-goal lead in the 73rd minute when Russell embarked on a lung-busting run down the right flank, burst into the box and dinked the ball across the face of the six-yard box. Nashville’s Daniel Lovitz narrowly avoided an own goal by poking Russell’s delivery over the crossbar and keeping his side within a goal. Not long later, Salloi found a pocket of room to lift a 20-yard piledriver high and wide.
The hosts thought they had equalized in the 84th minute when former Sporting striker C.J. Sapong stroked home off a low cross from Mukhtar, but Mukhtar was flagged offside prior to delivering the assist and the goal was disallowed.
The Father’s Day thriller delivered another compelling plot twist in the final minute of regular time. Referee Victor Rivas originally awarded Nashville a penalty after Alex Muyl went down under a challenge from Ndenbe, but the call was overturned through VAR when Muyl was deemed to be offside in the play that immediately preceded the foul inside the box.
Having survived the major scare, Sporting kept Nashville off the scoreboard for eight nail-biting minutes of stoppage time to notch a morale-building win ahead of Wednesday’s pivotal Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal clash against USL League One outfit Union Omaha Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the contest are available at SeatGeek.com with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. CT and a live stream on ESPN Plus.