Sporting Kansas City fell 3-2 to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night in New York in a riveting rematch of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.
Bradley-Wright Phillips and Johnny Russell traded early goals before a Roger Espinoza thunderbolt vaulted the visitors ahead six minutes into the second half.
The Red Bulls rallied behind substitute Marc Rzatkowski, who bagged two long-range strikes in the space of seven minutes to give New York a narrow victory at Red Bull arena.
The result sees Sporting KC (9-5-6, 33 points) and New York (11-5-2, 35 points) retain third place in their conferences.
Manager Peter Vermes’ 300th regular season match in charge of Sporting KC drew an end to the club’s three-game winning streak over the Red Bulls, who had suffered a 2-1 defeat in the U.S. Open Cup Final last September at Children’s Mercy Park.
Two of Sporting KC’s four lineup changes from last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC came in central defense. Emiliano Amor and Graham Smith entered the fray in place of injured duo Ike Opara and Matt Besler – the latter of whom was a gameday scratch due to back spasms.
Elsewhere, Espinoza and forward Daniel Salloi returned after serving one-game red card suspensions while Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal and Diego Rubio dropped to the bench.
Saturday also marked the return of Sporting KC midfielder Felipe Gutierrez – the MLS Player of the Month for March – who logged his first appearance since April 20 after overcoming a sports hernia injury.
The hosts took just four minutes to land the first punch, taking a 1-0 advantage when Wright-Phillips gathered a through ball from Kaku and chipped neatly past Tim Melia for his 12th MLS goal of the season and his eighth career tally against Sporting KC in all competitions.
Kaku earned his league-leading 11th assist on the play as Sporting KC conceded their second-earliest goal of 2018.
A frantic start saw Sporting KC restore parity in the eighth minute. Homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey lofted a diagonal ball from the left channel to the right side of the box, where Graham Zusi settled the pass and drove a low cross back into the center of a crowded penalty area.
Russell was on hand to steer a simple finish into the gaping net for his team-best seventh MLS goal and his second in as many games.
Lindsey registered his first assist in a Sporting KC uniform, becoming the youngest player in club history to assist a goal at 18 years and 109 days.
Both sides exchanged near misses before the 15-minute mark as an enthralling spectacle continued to unfold.
Kaku sent Wright-Phillips on a galloping run behind the Sporting KC defense, but the Englishman’s left-footed effort flashed wide of Melia’s left-hand post.
Shortly thereafter, Salloi picked off a lazy back pass from New York defender Tim Parker and rounded goalkeeper Luis Robles on the breakaway, but the 21-year-old’s angle became too tight to shoot. Salloi instead pulled the ball back for Gerso Fernandes, whose shot from the edge of the 18 was blocked.
Wright-Phillips asked further questions of Sporting KC’s backline in the 22nd minute, sending a low ball across the face of goal that a lunging Amor hammered behind for a corner kick.
The Red Bulls striker threatened again seven minutes before halftime, smashing a one-time shot just over the bar from a tight angle off Alex Muyl’s teasing cross.
At the opposite end, Lindsey cushioned a cross-field service from Espinoza to the feet of Croizet at the top of the box in the 35th minute. The Frenchman’s shot was blocked and the ball fell to Fernandes who went down under Parker’s clumsy challenge, but referee Kevin Stott waved play to continue.
Russell then drove at the New York defense and curled a left-footed strike inches wide with Robles rooted to the turf.
Espinoza fired Sporting KC ahead six minutes after the restart. Zusi roamed down the right flank and held the ball patiently near the endline prior to playing backwards to Espinoza.
The Honduran was afforded space from 25 yards out and unleashed a seething rocket that screamed past Robles and into the roof of the net. The stunning goal was Espinoza’s first of the season and gave Zusi the seventh multi-assist game of his decade-long MLS career.
The visitors were unsatisfied with their 2-1 lead and searched for more near the hour mark, but Salloi’s half volley off a looping cross from Croizet sailed high and wide.
The Red Bulls responded with a dangerous opportunity on 68 minutes. Tyler Adams slipped a through ball to Wright-Phillips who had snuck behind the defense, but Melia raced off his line and forced the attacker to pass back to Adams.
The resulting shot was strewn wide but almost directed goalward by Derrick Etienne near the six-yard area.
New York was not denied an equalizer on their next foray forward. Adams overlapped down the right wing and rolled a low cross to Rzatkowski, who sent a daisy cutter into the left corner to open his MLS scoring account and level terms at 2-2.
Saturday’s end-to-end contest continued to enthrall in the late stages, with Zusi and Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer both coming close only to be thwarted by the goalkeeper.
These opportunities came just before the 79th minute, when Rzatkowski bagged his second sensational goal of the night with a 25-yard piledriver into the top left corner.
A quick turnaround awaits for a Sporting KC side that resumes its Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title defense on Wednesday against rivals Houston Dynamo.
The quarterfinal showdown is set for 7:30 p.m. at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, marking the fourth straight year the rivals have met in the U.S. Open Cup.
SportingKC.com will stream the match live as Vermes’ men aim to capture their fourth Open Cup title in seven seasons and the club’s fifth overall.
– Story from Sporting KC