Sporting Kansas City (5-13-5, 20 points) fell 2-0 to Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC (14-4-3, 45 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
The visitors did their damage in the second half as Cristian Arango bagged his team-leading ninth goal of the campaign in the 56th minute and four-time UEFA Champions League winner Gareth Bale opened his MLS scoring account with seven minutes left, condemning Sporting to a club-record fourth consecutive home defeat.
Sporting will now shift gears as they prepare for a pivotal Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal showdown against USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday in the California capital. Kickoff at Heart Health Park is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on ESPN Plus. Manager Peter Vermes’ men have reached the Open Cup semifinals for the sixth time in club history and In each of the last four instances—in 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017—they went on to win the prestigious competition.
With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, newly acquired German midfielder and MLS debutant Erik Thommy headlined a Sporting Kansas City lineup that featured five changes from last weekend’s road loss to Real Salt Lake. The 27-year-old was joined in the center of the park by Felipe Hernandez, who was making his 50th career MLS appearance, while forward Khiry Shelton stepped into a three-man attack alongside captain Johnny Russell and fellow winger Daniel Salloi.
Sporting’s defense, meanwhile, was boosted by the return of two previously injured veterans in goalkeeper Tim Melia and right back Graham Zusi. Midfielder Roger Espinoza served a one-game suspension for caution accumulation, while Kayden Pierre, John Pulskamp, Uri Rosell and Marinos Tzionis dropped to the substitutes bench.
Thommy, who amassed nearly 100 appearances in the German Bundesliga prior to his arrival in Kansas City, ignited Sporting’s first chance inside three minutes by galloping into the final third and spreading the ball left to Salloi, who cut centrally and unleashed a shot that deflected marginally wide with LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau rooted to the turf. Shortly thereafter, Thommy tried his luck with a dipping 35-yard free kick that forced Crepeau into his first save.
Thommy’s vibrant start to life in MLS continued in the 15th minute when he almost opened the scoring. Hernandez did brilliantly to beat an LAFC defender, win a tackle along the endline and retain possession before pulling the ball back to Sporting’s freshly minted playmaker, whose first-time effort near the penalty spot screamed wide by a matter of inches.
LAFC weathered Sporting’s early pressure and carved out their first opportunity at the half-hour juncture as Diego Palacios eluded a sliding challenge from Zusi, darted down the left side and uncorked a thunderous strike that Melia corralled comfortably.
On the brink of halftime, Jose Cifuentes twice went close to gifting the visitors a lead. The LAFC midfielder planted a header narrowly over the crossbar following a corner kick before receiving a cutback pass from Kwadwo Opoku and seeing his open shot blocked off the goal line by Sporting left back Logan Ndenbe. The heroic intervention from the Belgian defender ensured the sides entered intermission level at 0-0.
Sporting suffered a setback early in the second period when Melia, who had missed the previous two matches with a shoulder ailment, was forced to exit with an apparent hamstring problem. Summoned in his place was 21-year-old John Pulskamp, who last weekend amassed an MLS career-high seven saves against Real Salt Lake.
LAFC put Sporting to the sword with 56 minutes on the clock. Opoku accelerated into the attacking third and slid the ball right to Arango, who took a swift touch and sent a belting strike high into the roof of the net for his seventh goal in eight matches and his third goal in as many career appearances against Sporting.
The hosts tried conjuring a quick reply, with Russell moving the ball onto his patented left peg and seeing a long-range attempt deflect high and loop into Crepeau’s thankful mitts.
Sporting’s misfortune was compounded in the 65th minute when Hernandez suffered a knock to the head and was replaced by Uri Rosell just as Bale, a former star at Real Madrid and a Welsh soccer icon, took the field for LAFC. Bale would punctuate his second MLS appearance with his first LAFC goal in the 83rd minute, breaking on the counter and receiving an Arango diagonal ball before slotting low inside the near post.
Recently signed striker Willy Agada made his Sporting debut in the late stages and offered Sporting’s best scoring look of the second half by snapping a 12-yard header goalward off a pinpoint Pierre cross in stoppage time.