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Sporting earns a disappointing point

(July 6, 2017) — Sporting Kansas City reclaimed sole possession of first place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference on Thursday, settling for a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park. A sublime strike from Diego Rubio put the hosts ahead in the 49th minute, but the Union would salvage a point thanks to Roland Alberg’s 69th-minute penalty kick.
Thursday’s result vaulted Sporting Kansas City (8-4-8, 32 points) to the top of the West, one point ahead of FC Dallas, and extended the club’s historic home unbeaten streak to 19 consecutive MLS matches. Philadelphia (6-7-5, 23 points) managed just two shots on target all evening and conceded 64 percent possession, but former Sporting KC striker C.J. Sapong won the visitors a spot kick that leveled the score in a largely one-sided affair.
Manager Peter Vermes fielded a reshuffled lineup from Saturday’s 1-1 tie against the Portland Timbers, making four changes to the starting 11. Twenty-year-old Homegrown defender Erik Palmer-Brown notably earned his first MLS appearance for the club since October 2015, joining Ike Opara in central defense, while forwards Rubio and Daniel Salloi logged their first starts of the season. Jimmy Medranda, meanwhile, joined a three-man midfield as Roger Espinoza served a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
It didn’t take long for Sporting Kansas City to assert their dominance on proceedings, though the first chance of the match fell to Philadelphia’s Ilsinho on the counter attack. Sapong did well to hold up play before feeding the midfielder, who rifled wide of the near post and into the side netting.
Rubio nearly drew first blood in the 14th minute, racing onto a gorgeous pass over the top from Ilie and cutting onto his favored right foot, but the resulting shot from the edge of the box went wayward. Medranda turned in a tireless midfield display from start to finish with 10 tackles – the second-most by an MLS player this season – and carved out another opportunity three minutes later, rolling a gorgeous diagonal through ball into the path of Blessing. The diminutive Ghanaian’s piercing effort was blocked by Philadelphia goalkeeper McCarthy, who finished the contest with six saves.
Blessing was on the front foot again in the 25th minute, embarking on a mazy run into the penalty area before picking out Salloi, whose one-time effort was deflected behind for a corner kick. Sporting Kansas City would take 14 corner kicks throughout the night, one short of tying the club’s all-time record in the MLS regular season. Salloi caused further danger near the half-hour mark, unleashing a swerving shot from 25 yards that McCarthy did splendidly to parry wide.
Saad Abdul-Salaam was almost rewarded for a timely overlapping run in the 39th minute, receiving a pass from Rubio before seeing his right-footed blast saved by the sprawling McCarthy. On the stroke of halftime, Salloi’s seemingly innocuous looping cross from the near sideline veered goalward and smacked onto the crossbar.
Sporting Kansas City’s superiority was finally rewarded four minutes after the restart. Rubio settled a pass from Salloi on the left side of the box, cut right and curled a phenomenal strike into the far right corner of the net, recording his second career MLS goal and his first since April 2016. The moment was one to savor for the Chilean forward, who missed the first three months of 2017 due to an ACL injury sustained last October.
Salloi, who picked up his first MLS assist, tried his luck again in the 60th minute after attempting to combine with Rubio, but McCarthy was well-positioned to smother the piledriver.
Philadelphia landed its counterpunch halfway through the second period. A recycled ball into the penalty area following a cleared corner kick dropped kindly to Sapong, who was brought down from behind by Benny Feilhaber. Referee Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot and Alberg made no mistake equalizing from 12 yards, his second goal in as many appearances against Sporting KC.
Feilhaber almost atoned just two minutes later, whipping a delicious free kick into the six-yard area that Blessing steered straight at McCarthy – much to the chagrin of a 97th straight MLS sellout crowd inside Children’s Mercy Park. The duo combined on another set piece in the 74th minute as Blessing – the shortest player on the field at 5-foot-3 – rose above the rest and snapped a header that was touched over the bar by McCarthy.
A tense finale saw Sporting Kansas City threaten in second-half stoppage time when an unwavering surge of pressure allowed Salloi to find space near the penalty spot, but the 20-year-old’s side-footed attempt skipped agonizingly wide of McCarthy’s left-hand post.
Major League Soccer will now take a two-week break as the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup takes center stage. Sporting Kansas City trio Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi have joined the U.S. Men’s National Team to compete at the tournament, which runs from July 7-26.
Sporting Kansas City will now shift gears into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where the club will host FC Dallas in Tuesday’s quarterfinal showdown at Children’s Mercy Park. The matchup pits the winners of the last two Open Cup titles, as Sporting KC claimed the 2015 championship before FC Dallas hoisted the trophy last season. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT and tickets are available at SeatGeek.com.

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