Two-goal Alan Pulido propels 4-1 win as Sporting jumps above playoff line

Sporting Kansas City (5-8-5, 20 points) vaulted above the playoff line for the first time this season by surging to a 4-1 victory over Austin FC (5-8-4, 19 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Striker Alan Pulido led the way with two goals and one assist, totaling three goal contributions in a game for the first time since joining MLS in 2020, while defender Robert Castellanos and impact substitute Khiry Shelton also etched their names onto the scoresheet. Austin salvaged a second-half strike from 2022 MLS MVP finalist Sebastian Driussi, but it would not prevent Sporting from securing a result that pushed the club from 12th to eighth in the Western Conference table.

Boasting a 5-1-2 record since the start of May, Sporting will continue their home-heavy month next Saturday, June 17, by hosting reigning MLS Cup champion LAFC at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the marquee showdown are available at with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. CT and live coverage on MLS Season Pass via Apple TV.

Multiple injuries across the backline prompted Sporting manager Peter Vermes to make two changes from last weekend’s 1-1 road draw against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. German duo Robert Voloder and Tim Leibold replaced center back Andreu Fontas and left back Logan Ndenbe, respectively, with defender Dany Rosero and captain Johnny Russell also sidelined because of hamstring ailments. Holding midfielder Nemanja Radoja hit a notable milestone by logging the 300th appearance of his professional club career, while Pulido played his 50th match for Sporting in all competitions.

Contested amidst steady rain showers, Sporting’s 250th competitive home match in club history produced its first flashbulb moment inside 10 minutes when Austin wing back Jon Gallagher—who entered the night with a team-best five goals on the season—flashed a long-range curler inches wide of Kendall McIntosh’s left-hand post. Shortly thereafter, Austin threatened again as Emiliano Rigoni’s clipped cross from the endline was nodded narrowly amiss by Driussi.

Austin were left ruing their missed opportunities when they fell behind in the 19th minute. After the visitors failed to clear a Sporting corner kick, Leibold lofted a looping cross from the left wing to the far post, where Castellanos did well to outjump his marker and cushion a header back across the face of goal. Pulido was first to react and promptly cashed in by slotting low past Austin keeper Brad Stuver for his second goal in as many games and his first MLS home tally at Children’s Mercy Park since June 2021.

Sporting breathed a sigh of relief at the half-hour juncture as Gallagher’s 22-yard bomb off a half-cleared corner kick deflected and dipped just over the crossbar. Eleven minutes later, however, the hosts nearly doubled their advantage with Pulido turning provider, combining neatly with Leibold inside the box before the latter’s left-footed drive was cast aside by Stuver for the first save of the game.

The opening 15 minutes of the second half belonged to Sporting, who stamped their dominance with another two goals to spring a 3-0 lead. A well-executed set piece yielded their second strike of the game in the 47th minute as Erik Thommy’s in-swinging free kick was glanced across the six-yard area by Pulido and bundled home by Castellanos, who bagged his first Sporting goal on the play and his first MLS goal since debuting for Nashville SC on Aug. 1, 2021. Thommy tabbed a secondary assist on the play and has recorded assists in back-to-back matches for the second time since the start of May. It also marked the first time that Pulido has scored and assisted in the same MLS game since Aug. 14, 2021.

Ten minutes later, Vermes’ men compounded Austin’s troubles with Pulido’s second goal of the contest on a delectable delivery from Leibold, whose pinpoint cross was prodded home with poise to ignite delirious celebrations across the stadium. Pulido produced his first multi-goal game since May 16, 2021, and his five goals in all competitions this season are tied with Daniel Salloi for most on the team.

Under the guidance of head coach Josh Wolff and assistant coach Davy Arnaud—two members of the Sporting Legends hall of honor—Austin grabbed a lifeline in the 61st minute off the foot of Driussi. Chaos in Sporting’s box saw the ball pinball off multiple bodies before Gyasi Zardes secured possession near the right endline and pulled the ball back to Driussi, who buried his first-time into the roof of the net. Austin’s star Argentine has scored in each of the last four meetings between the clubs, the first three of which resulted in Verde victories. Driussi then spurned a golden chance to make the score 3-2 in the 68th minute, blasting a point-blank strike over the bar after Sporting failed to extinguish the danger in their own six-yard area.

Shelton relieved Pulido at the 77-minute mark and excelled in his cameo. He thought he had scored in the 85th minute when he did well to round Stuver and finish into the gaping net, but the play was called back for an offside infraction. Undeterred, Shelton made sure of opening his 2023 scoring account near the end of normal time. Galloping free on the breakaway, Thommy had a left-footed shot saved by Stuver, but Shelton was there to smash home the rebound to give Sporting it’s fifth four-goal home game since last August.

2023 MLS Regular Season | Match 18
Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 18,885
Weather: 69 degrees and rainy

Sporting Kansas City 4-1 Austin FC
Sporting Kansas City (5-8-5, 20 points)
Austin FC (5-8-4, 19 points)

Sporting Kansas City: Kendall McIntosh; Jake Davis, Robert Castellanos, Robert Voloder, Tim Leibold (Roger Espinoza 90+3′); Nemanja Radoja, Erik Thommy (Felipe Hernandez 90+2′), Remi Walter; Marinos Tzionis, Alan Pulido (Khiry Shelton 77′), Daniel Salloi (C)

Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Chris Rindov, Cam Duke, Danny Flores, Gadi Kinda, Stephen Afrifa

Austin FC: Brad Stuver; Nick Lima, Julio Cascante, Aleksandar Radovanovic (Will Bruin 87′); Emiliano Rigoni (Ethan Finlay 58′), Dani Pereira, Jhojan Valencia (Owen Wolff 59′), Jon Gallagher; Gyasi Zardes (Maxi Urruti 68′), Sebastian Driussi (C), Diego Fagundez (Adam Lundkvist 68′)

Subs Not Used: Matt Bersano, Hector Jimenez, Rodney Redes

Scoring Summary:
SKC — Alan Pulido 3 (unassisted) 19′
SKC — Robert Castellanos 1 (Alan Pulido 3, Erik Thommy 4) 47′
SKC — Alan Pulido 4 (Tim Leibold 2, Robert Voloder 1) 57′
ATX — Sebastian Driussi 4 (Gyasi Zardes 1) 61′
SKC — Khiry Shelton 1 (unassisted) 89′

Misconduct Summary:
ATX — Julio Cascante (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 52′
ATX — Gyasi Zardes (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 60′
SKC — Nemanja Radoja (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 61′
SKC — Erik Thommy (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 87′

Match Statistics
Shots on Goal
Corner Kicks

Referee: Marcos de Oliveira
Assistant Referee: Jeremy Kieso
Assistant Referee: Ben Pilgrim
Fourth Official: Calin Radosav
VAR: Kevin Terry Jr.
AVAR: Mike Kampmeinert

Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.


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