Sporting Earns Draw with Austin FC

Daniel Salloi bagged his fourth goal of the season as Sporting Kansas City (5-2-2, 17 points) came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw against Austin FC (2-4-2, 8 points) in an enthralling encounter on Saturday afternoon at sun-drenched Children’s Mercy Park.

The 150th MLS sellout in stadium history saw Austin FC take a 1-0 lead in the first half through Cecilio Dominguez, but Sporting’s stranglehold on proceedings was rewarded in the 71st minute when Salloi cashed in on one of 32 shot attempts for the hosts, who pushed their unbeaten run to four games. Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver made a career-high nine saves but was unable to prevent Sporting from extending their regular season home scoring streak to 20 matches, which ties a club record first set from 2011-2012.

The breathless stalemate moves Sporting within a point of Seattle Sounders FC in the Supporters’ Shield race ahead of a trip to the Portland Timbers (3-4-0, 9 points) next Saturday at 9:30 p.m. CT. The Western Conference clash will be shown live on Bally Sports Kansas City and Bally Sports Midwest.

Presiding over his 450th competitive match as Sporting Kansas City’s manager, Peter Vermes was prompted to make two changes to his starting XI from a 3-2 home win over Houston Dynamo FC on May 29. With forward Alan Pulido on international duty with Mexico and midfielder Gadi Kinda observing heath and safety protocols following his stint with the Israeli national team, captain Johnny Russell and Frenchman Remi Walter jumped into the lineup for their first starts since May 12. In defense, veteran right back Graham Zusi notably logged his 349th career appearance for Sporting in all competitions, passing Austin FC center back and former teammate Matt Besler for the most in club history.

The hosts seized attacking initiative and peppered Austin’s attacking third for the first 15 minutes, but the game’s first shot on target fell to the visitors when Jared Stroud cut centrally from the right side and forced Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia into a strong save at the near post.

Sporting remained dangerous on the opposite end and Russell nearly fired his team ahead in stunning fashion with 24 minutes on the clock. The Scottish winger did brilliantly to chest down a 50-yard long ball from Ilie Sanchez and uncork a left-footed volley that fizzed inches wide of Stuver’s left-hand post.

Despite conceding the lion’s share of possession and absorbing pressure in the early stages, Austin landed the first punch against the run of play in the 26th minute. Dominguez settled a pass from Zan Kolmanic at the top of the penalty area, took a touch and sent a low right-footed strike across Melia and into the corner. Austin’s Designated Player bagged his third goal of the year on the play and snapped his team’s scoreless draught at 378 minutes — a run that dated back to May 9 when Jon Gallagher scored for Los Verdes in a 2-1 loss to Sporting at Children’s Mercy Park.

A spirited search for an equalizer saw Sporting threaten multiple times before intermission. Near the half-hour mark, Walter beat his defender along the left side of the box and pulled the ball back to Salloi, who pirouetted past an opponent and dragged a shot that missed marginally. Stuver denied Roger Espinoza five minutes later after Russell leapt in the penalty area to head the ball into the path of his Honduran teammate.

On the cusp of halftime — shortly after Sporting were forced into a pair of injury-related substitutions as Felipe Hernandez and Jaylin Lindsey replaced Walter and Zusi, respectively — Salloi was left ruing his luck when Stuver touched his acrobatic shot onto the crossbar. The game continued to stretch in frantic fashion and Gallagher spurned an opportunity to double Austin’s advantage in first-half stoppage time when he his breakaway effort missed the target.

Hernandez had a positive impact in his cameo role and almost drew Sporting level in the 47th minute, latching onto a pass from Russell only to see his blast repelled by Stuver. Hernandez tried his luck again in the 54th minute but the shot was blocked through traffic and Salloi’s rebound attempt sailed high.

Austin were active on the counterattack and could have put the game out of reach after an hour, but Melia produced a splendid reflex save with his outstretched mitt to thwart Dominguez one on one.

Salloi provided Sporting’s deserved breakthrough on 71 minutes. Gianluca Busio advanced into the attacking third and had a long-range strike take a deflection goalward. Russell was quick to beat Stuver to the ball and an opportunity fell to Salloi, who slammed home the rebound to restore parity. The Hungarian Homegrown winger is now tied for third in MLS with six combined goals (four) and assists (two), while Sporting leads MLS the league with 16 goals in 2021.

The final quarter-hour hung on a knife-edge as Sporting swarmed forward in search of a winner while Austin defended deep and broke on the counter. Substitute Manny Perez wasted a breakaway chance for Austin in the 76th minute, seconds before Stuver cast aside Russell’s thundering shot on the other end of the pitch.

The expansion side had another look go begging in the 81st minute when Rodney Redes couldn’t Perez’s cross on frame. They were nearly made to pay for the miss on 85 minutes when Andreu Fontas — who completed 93 of 97 passes — picked out Russell, whose sublime back heel flick to Khiry Shelton merely set up Stuver to make another heroic save.