Sporting Kansas City pushed its unbeaten streak to 10 straight games in all competitions after splitting the points with Real Salt Lake in a pulsating 1-1 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night.
Benny Feilhaber’s second-half penalty kick canceled out Luis Silva’s first-half opener as Sporting Kansas City (8-4-9, 33 points) dropped a point behind FC Dallas for top spot in the West but avoided defeat against a Real Salt Lake side (7-12-3, 24 points) that unleashed 20 shot attempts – the most faced by Sporting KC in a match this season.
With Matt Besler and Graham Zusi on CONCACAF Gold Cup duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team and center back Ike Opara sidelined with a concussion, Manager Peter Vermes fielded a reshuffled Sporting Kansas City lineup.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia was shielded by outside backs Saad Abdul-Salaam and Seth Sinovic, while homegrown Kansas Citians Kevin Ellis and Erik Palmer-Brown patrolled central defense. Captain Roger Espinoza returned from suspension to join Feilhaber and Ilie in the midfield, and Diego Rubio was flanked by Gerso and Latif Blessing up top.
The visitors carved out an opening within three minutes when Abdul-Salaam’s delightful cutback pass was scuffed by Rubio near the penalty spot. At the opposite end, Tony Beltran’s stinging blast from distance was pushed wide by an outstretched Melia for his first of five saves throughout the evening.
Having exploded for 10 goals in their previous two matches, Real Salt Lake threatened twice more before the half-hour mark. Silva lashed high from outside the box in the 16th minute before Jefferson Savarino’s bouncing volley flashed marginally wide eight minutes later.
Vermes’ men remained dangerous themselves, however, and a superb buildup on 28 minutes nearly resulted in the opening goal.
A precise long ball over the top from Palmer-Brown was corralled by Gerso, who picked out Abdul-Salaam in the penalty area. The right back accelerated toward the byline and flashed a dangerous ball across the face of goal that went untouched by slew of nearby bodies.
Albert Rusnak entered Saturday as Real Salt Lake’s most prolific chance creator and did just that in the 41st minute, serving a free kick that was headed onto the post by Silva. Yet the RSL forward wouldn’t be denied a second time, drawing first blood two minutes before intermission with a calm finish into the right corner following a pass from Joao Plata.
Gerso nearly provided an instant leveler for Sporting Kansas City, exhibiting great hustle along the right endline to win possession and cut centrally, but his left-footed effort was blocked by a lunging Justen Glad.
An eventful and hotly contested second period saw both teams try their luck within eight minutes after the restart.
Blessing’s acrobatic bicycle kick was comfortably saved by Nick Rimando, then Sinovic produced a vital block to thwart Savarino on the breakaway. Glad would steer a header well over the bar on the ensuing corner kick.
Referee Nima Saghafi awarded Sporting Kansas City its very first penalty kick of the season when Silva toppled Feilhaber on the left side of the penalty area.
Feilhaber would bury the ensuing spot kick, recording his third goal of the campaign and his fifth goal in his last eight appearances against Real Salt Lake in all competitions.
The hosts responded with vigor, as Savarino lashed a shot just off frame in the 65th minute before Plata’s right-footed attempt deflected off Palmer-Brown and rolled inches wide of Melia’s right-hand post.
Sporting Kansas City would breathe a massive sigh of relief in the 74th minute when Silva raced behind the defense and unleashed low drive from the right side of the box that caromed off the far post and then the near post before rolling back into play.
Silva was first to the rebound and sent a thunderous shot high off the near post, his third woodwork strike in as many seconds. Less than a minute after the heart-stopping scare, Melia dove at full extension to palm Savarino’s long-range blast away from goal.
Rusnak was on the receiving end of another glorious opportunity in the 82nd minute, but lifted his volley inches above the bar after breaching Sporting KC’s back line. Melia would make three further saves in the dying embers of the match, denying Silva, Plata and Beltran before the final whistle blew.
Feilhaber almost bagged his brace with a wonderfully struck right-footed bullet in the 85th minute, but Rimando leapt to get his fingertips to the ball and record his second save.
Sporting Kansas City now looks ahead to a marquee interconference clash with Supporters Shield contender and longtime rival Chicago Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) next Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and a limited number of tickets are available at SeatGeek.com.
– Story from Sporting KC