Sporting Kansas City opened the 2020 Major League Soccer season with an impressive 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps inside BC Place.
Newcomers Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda each scored first-half goals in debuts and Erik Hurtado put an exclamation point on the performance with a last-minute goal against his former club.
The road result saw Sporting emerge victorious for a league-leading 14th time in a season opener in the club’s 25-year history and improve to 10-3-4 in MLS action against Vancouver.
Sporting now has 13 regular season wins in Canada, most in MLS among American teams, and 31 victories all-time against Canadian clubs, also an MLS best.
After a six-week preseason campaign, Saturday’s highly anticipated opener delivered with three goals in an entertaining first half between the Western Conference foes.
In the first 15 minutes, Kinda — a 25-year-old central midfielder acquired on loan from the Israeli Premier League — wasted little time in introducing himself with shots in back-to-back minutes, followed by an attempt from veteran Roger Espinoza that fizzed off frame.
Sporting’s breakthrough would come in the 17th minute following a free kick taken by Graham Zusi. Whitecaps defender Derek Cornelius was first to the initial service, but Roberto Puncec won the aerial battle for the second ball to set up Pulido with a header of his own that kissed off the post for the game’s opening goal.
The goal continues a strong run of form for Pulido, who arrived in Kansas City after finishing atop the Liga MX scoring charts with 12 goals for C.D. Guadalajara in the 2019 Apertura season last fall.
Vancouver responded to going down a goal with their first chances of the match, forcing a save from Tim Melia on a well-struck shot by Cristian Dajome in the 21st minute then nearly equalizing if not for a heroic recovery run from Graham Zusi to deny designated player Lucas Cavallini on the doorstep.
The Whitecaps pressure paid off shortly thereafter in the 28th minute, however, as David Milinkovic’s driven pass across the goalmouth was met with a sliding finish from Jake Nerwinski.
Pulido came close to scoring his second of the night in the 32nd minute as the World Cup veteran cut inside and skipped a shot just beyond the far post in a signal of Sporting’s intent to retake the lead.
The visitors did exactly that in the 39th minute on a stunning first-time strike from Kinda that beat Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and curled into the top corner off an assist from Luis Martins.
The pair of goals from Pulido and Kinda marked only the fourth MLS season opener in team history in which two newcomers scored for the club (Takawira-Klopas in 1996, Trujillo-Lopez in 2008 and Sapong-Bravo in 2011).
The final five minutes of the first half featured a flurry of close calls for both sides as Melia lunged to his left to keep out a shot from distance by Dajome before Espinoza’s right-footed effort dipped just over the bar.
The Whitecaps nearly drew level again in the 43rd minute as Cavallini’s shot crashed off the post as Sporting scrambled in the aftermath of a defensive clearance gone awry.
Sporting Kansas City refused to concede the lead in a back-and-forth second half that was highlighted by a Johnny Russell volley in the 60th minute and a sizzling shot from Yordy Reyna saved by Melia in the 68th minute before reaching a crescendo in the closing moments.
Second-half substitute Fredy Montero’s glancing header was narrowly wide in the 82nd minute and Crepeau was called into action four minutes later, racing off his line to claim a through ball from Kinda a split-second before Khiry Shelton could take a touch.
Melia’s fourth and final save was easily his best of the night as the former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year produced a game-saving stop in the 88th minute in a one-on-one situation with Cavallini inside the penalty area.
On the opposite end, Sporting Kansas City would wrap up the victory in scintillating fashion in the fifth and final minute of stoppage time.
Gerso Fernandes held off Russell Tiebert then spun past Nerwsinki prior to floating a lofted cross to Hurtado at the back post for an emphatic volley into the back of the net in his first match against the Whitecaps since being traded to Kansas City after the 2018 season.
Sporting Kansas City will now return home to host the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the home opener are available at SeatGeek.com and the first 10,000 fans in attendance will receive Sporting rally towels.