Sporting Kansas City (8-2-5, 29 points) remained at the Western Conference summit following a scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers (6-3-4, 22 points) on Saturday night at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia collected his MLS-best seventh shutout in 11 games as Sporting KC shut out Portland for the fifth time in their last six regular-season visits to Providence Park.
The draw pulls Sporting KC level with FC Dallas at the top of the West on 29 points and marks the first time that the Timbers have failed to score at home in 18 matches.
Saturday’s fixture pitted two in-form teams, as Sporting KC extended its unbeaten run to seven games in all competitions while Portland extended their unbeaten streak to nine matches overall.
The rainy affair also saw captain Matt Besler make history with his 241st regular season appearance, taking sole possession of first-place all-time for Sporting KC.
With Sporting KC just three days removed from a 2-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, manager Peter Vermes reshuffled his lineup to the tune of six changes as Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Roger Espinoza, Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes stepped into the starting 11.
Youth was also served courtesy of 18-year-old defender Jaylin Lindsey and 19-year-old midfielder Kuzain, who became the second and fifth youngest players to start a regular season match in club history.
Johnny Russell, who recorded a goal and an assist in Wednesday’s Open Cup triumph, was the catalyst for Sporting KC’s first chance in the 20th minute when he drove down the right side of the box and cut the ball back across the face of goal. Lindsey was waiting in space at the top of the penalty area but curled his effort a yard high.
The visitors continued to ask questions of Portland’s defense and almost drew first blood on 26 minutes, but Russell was unable to nod Fernandes’ teasing cross on frame from six yards out.
The close shave prompted a response from the Timbers, as Opara and Besler repelled a pair of dangerous deliveries into the box from Sebastian Blanco and Andres Flores.
Salloi was on the receiving end of the first half’s best chance, settling a deflected pass from Russell and unleashing a sweetly struck volley that beat goalkeeper Jeff Attinella but rattled the crossbar in the 40th minute.
Besler’s record-breaking appearance was blemished at halftime when the center back was forced to exit with a thigh injury, summoning Emiliano Amor as his replacement.
The setback didn’t prevent Sporting KC from a strong start to the second stanza, however, as Russell almost picked out Salloi on a quick-strike counter attack only for a swarm of Portland defenders to intervene.
At the opposite end, reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri corralled a pass from Blanco and lashed a left-footed attempt marginally wide of the far post in the 51st minute.
Melia produced a superb stop five minutes later, reaching out his left hand to push away Fanendo Adi’s bouncing header off Blanco’s cross.
Sporting KC remained under siege as the game reached the hour mark, with Cristhian Paredes’ 22-yard knuckler smothered by the Sporting KC goalkeeper before Valeri sent a free kick over the target.
A delicately poised battle remained in the balance as the woodwork saved Portland again in the 65th minute, when Russell’s bending free kick skimmed the left post and drifted out of play.
Not long later, Ilie found a pocket of space and pulled the trigger from 30 yards, forcing Attinella into a jumping save. Espinoza then got involved in the 72nd minute, but Attinella was again up to the task as he dove to palm away the Honduran’s low drive.
The Portland goalkeeper continued to impress as the contest entered the final 15 minutes, with Zusi showing exasperation after his near-post effort was touched wide by the outstretched Attinella.
A breathless finale featured chances on both ends, including a wicked Blanco strike from the edge of the box that flashed narrowly over the bar.
With a two-game road trip in the rearview mirror, Sporting KC will return to Children’s Mercy Park next Saturday to continue their defense of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The reigning champions are set to face FC Dallas in the Round of 16 at 8 p.m. June 16 in a rematch of last season’s epic Open Cup quarterfinal that saw Sporting KC endure most of regulation down a man before scoring three extra-time goals en route to an emotional 3-0 home victory.
Tickets for the matchup are included in Sporting KC Season Ticket Member packages and available via SeatGeek.com.
– Story from Sporting KC