Russell leads Sporting comeback over Houston in U.S. Open Cup

Forward Johnny Russell scored his second goal of the match on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute. Russell’s two goals led Sporting Kansas City to victory over the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

by Brian Turrel

Sporting Kansas City took another step on the road toward its fifth U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Kansas City gave up the lead in the first half, but came barreling back in the second thanks to two goals from forward and team captain Johnny Russell.

Despite nagging injuries that have kept him listed as questionable on recent injury reports, Russell was all over the pitch on Wednesday — attacking down the left and right sidelines, dropping low to defend, and taking on some very physical challenges from Dynamo defenders.

Russell’s game-winner came on a 73rd minute penalty kick earned by Daniel Salloi, who was tripped by Houston’s Daniel Steres as he tried to make a run on the Dynamo goal. Russell took a big run-up and slapped his left-footed kick into the lower right corner of the goal.

The Scottish forward tied the score in the 52nd minute after he snared a Houston clearance about 20 yards out. Though he got pushed to the turf by forward Beto Avila, Russell maintained possession, made a turn among three defenders and blasted in his shot from outside the penalty area.

Corey Baird got the Dynamo on the board near the end of the first half, receiving a beautiful through pass down the middle from Darwin Quintero and then outracing Logan Ndenbe and Andreu Fontas to get a shot on goal from 12 yards out.

Kansas City had plenty of chances, using long, diagonal passes to get in behind the Houston defense. Speedsters Ndenbe and Salloi put the right side of the Houston defense under pressure repeatedly, and Sporting outshot the Dynamo 18-7, despite holding only 40 percent of the possession.

After the match, head coach Peter Vermes sang the praises of Russell’s all-out effort.

“He’s the captain,” said the coach. “He’s the leader. That’s why the guys respect him. He wins all the time. He wins in practice, and he brings it to the game week in and week out.”

Kansas City now advances to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, a single elimination tournament that features teams from several professional and amateur soccer leagues.

The opponent will be USL League One team Union Omaha, which defeated Minnesota United FC 2-1 on Wednesday. The match will be played at Children’s Mercy Park on June 22.

Sporting’s next regular season game will be at home on May 28 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The game will kick off at 8 p.m.

The Cauldron fan section celebrated Johnny Russell’s goal in the 52nd minute. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

Daniel Steres’s foul on Daniel Salloi led to the game-winning goal. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

A late challenge from Houston defender Daniel Steres sent defender Logan Ndenbe sprawling. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

Houston defender Griffin Dorsey cleared the ball, just out of reach of forward Cam Duke. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

Kansas City defenders Kortne Ford, center, and Andreu Fontas leaped for a corner kick as Houston goalkeeper Michael Nelson tried to knock it away. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

A cutback from midfielder Felipe Hernandez had Houston midfielder Brooklyn Raines on his heels. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

Defender Kayden Pierre ran along the end line, looking for options in the center. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

 

Forward Khiry Shelton signed a cast for a fan after the game. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

Sporting drops match to Chicago, 3-1

Chicago – Missing six regular starters due to injury, shorthanded Sporting Kansas City (1-3-0, 3 points) suffered a 3-1 loss on Saturday at Soldier Field to the Chicago Fire (2-0-2, 8 points).

Chicago continued its unbeaten start to the 2022 season.

Veteran midfielder Roger Espinoza scored for Sporting Kansas City in the 56th minute, becoming just the 13th player in team history to tally 50 combined regular season goals and assists for the club. In his 13th season, Espinoza now has 11 career regular season goals to go along with 39 regular season assists.

Twenty-one-year-old Sporting KC Academy product Cam Duke earned his first career MLS assist on the goal, combining with fellow homegrown player Felipe Hernandez to set up Espinoza and snap Chicago’s 325-minute shutout streak to open the campaign.

The Fire, coming off a 2-0 win at D.C. United last weekend, continued the club’s strong start to 2022 with a brace from offseason acquisition Kacper Przybylko and a penalty from record signing Xherdan Shaqiri, who also added two assists on the night to go along with the game-winning goal.

Przybylko opened the scoring at the half-hour mark on Saturday with his first goal since joining the team from the Philadelphia Union. The Fire’s first shot of the match found the back of the net as Przbylko’s left-footed strike eluded Tim Melia amidst the wet conditions in the Windy City.

The hosts doubled the lead five minutes into the second half as referee Tim Ford awarded Chicago a penalty as Mauricio Pineda went down inside the area. Shaqiri stepped to the spot and sent Melia the wrong direction to score his first goal in Major League Soccer after an illustrious career in Europe that included Champions League titles with Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Playing in a 3-5-2 formation without the team’s three designated players – Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda – as well as MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi and center forward Khiry Shelton, Sporting responded with a well-worked goal to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 56th minute.

Making his first start of the year, Duke played a through ball into the path of Hernandez inside the penalty area and Hernandez cut the ball back for a first-time finish from Espinoza. The goal was Espinoza’s first in MLS since the 2020 season and capped off a 19-pass sequence in the buildup.

The Fire sealed its first victory over Sporting since 2016 with a third goal in the 82nd minute coming on a quick transition after forcing a turnover in their attacking half. Przybylko bagged his second of the match and 37th of his MLS career on an assist from 18-year-old Brian Gutierrez.

Sporting KC will return home to play host to rivals Real Salt Lake at 6 p.m. next Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Tickets are available online at SeatGeek.com and the match will be nationally televised on UniMas and TUDN in addition to 38 The Spot’s local broadcast in Kansas City.

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Sporting KC travels to Chicago Saturday

Playing the team’s third road match in the first four weeks of the 2022 season, Sporting Kansas City (1-2-0, 3 points) will travel to take on the unbeaten Chicago Fire FC (1-0-2, 5 points) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Soldier Field.

The cross-conference clash will air live on 38 The Spot with three hours of coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. The match will also stream live on SportingKC.com and the Sporting KC mobile app for viewers in Kansas and Missouri (excluding St. Louis area), while out-of-market fans can watch via ESPN+. In addition, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM will carry the match locally for listeners.

Sporting is looking to bounce back after falling 2-0 on the road at the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, while Chicago is coming off a 2-0 win in the nation’s capital over D.C. United.

Under first-year head coach Ezra Hendrickson, the Fire opened the season with back-to-back scoreless draws and has kept clean sheets in each of its first three matches. The feat is a first in club history and the Fire is only the eighth team in the MLS to record three straight shutouts to start a season.

Seventeen-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina now has seven clean sheets in his first 14 professional appearances for a rejuvenated Fire side that has high hopes in 2022 after only two playoff berths, and no postseason wins, in the past 11 seasons.

Chicago acquired 30-year-old winger Xherdan Shaqiri – who featured for Switzerland in the last three FIFA World Cups and who recently won both the Champions League and Premier League with Liverpool – as the team’s most expensive transfer signing last month as part of an offseason overhaul of the roster.

The Fire’s top four scorers from last season have all departed, making way for the arrival of Kacper Przybylko in a trade with Philadelphia after the 28-year-old striker led the Union in scoring in each of the last three years. Jairo Torres will further bolster the Fire attack when the 21-year-old winger arrives in May from Atlas FC in Mexico, while 22-year-old Bulgarian winger Stanislav Ivanov scored his first goal for the Fire last weekend.

Although Chicago leads the all-time series, Sporting KC earned a 2-0 victory over the Fire at Children’s Mercy Park last September in the only meeting between the two sides in 2021, and Sporting has won five of the team’s last six games against the Fire with a 5-0-1 record in the matchup dating back to 2017.

Manager Peter Vermes has led Sporting to road results in the club’s last two trips to Chicago with a 4-3 victory in 2018 and a 2-2 draw in 2020, however Sporting is 5-18-3 all-time on the road against Chicago in the regular season including a 1-7-2 mark at Soldier Field – the team’s lowest winning percentage at any current MLS stadium in which Sporting has played at least two regular season matches.

Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi, who scored his final goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team at Soldier Field during the Copa America Centenario, is on the cusp of becoming the club’s all-time minutes leader in MLS regular-season action.

With 25,474 minutes played, Zusi trails Matt Besler by just 27 minutes for that distinction and his next start will be the 300th of his career in MLS regular season and postseason competition. The first player in MLS history to play 14 seasons all with one club, Zusi’s 323 career regular season appearances are fifth most in MLS history by a player for one club and the most of any active player in that category.

Zusi is one of four starters to play every minute for Sporting KC this season — along with Tim Melia, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Remi Walter — as Sporting copes with injuries to several key players. In addition to the long-term absences of designated players Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda, midfielder Uri Rosell was injured in the season opener and midfielder Felipe Hernandez was forced to exit the team’s last match as Sporting took on Colorado without MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi and starting striker Khiry Shelton due to injury.

Newcomers Marinos Tzionis and Nikola Vujnovic made their first starts for Sporting last Saturday in place of Salloi and Shelton on the frontline, while defenders Kortne Ford and Ben Sweat returned from lengthy knee injuries to make their club debuts as second-half substitutes.

Kayden Pierre also came off the bench to make his first MLS appearance at 19 years of age, becoming the 14th Sporting KC Academy product to sign as a homegrown player and appear in an MLS match.

Saturday’s showdown in the Windy City will be the latest in a long history between Kansas City and Chicago. Most notably, Kansas City defeated Chicago by 1-0 in the 2000 MLS Cup and 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finals while also edging the Fire for the 2000 Supporters’ Shield title.

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