Sporting KC ties for first place after 2-2 draw with Chicago

Sporting Kansas City (9-6-3, 30 points) moved into a tie for first place in the Western Conference following a tense 2-2 draw with Chicago Fire FC (5-8-5, 20 points) on Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago.

After Erik Hurtado’s 35th-minute opener was canceled out by a Robert Beric strike on the brink of halftime, Sporting took its second lead of the day thanks to a Gadi Kinda header in the 83rd minute.

However, manager Peter Vermes’ men were denied the full three points as Chicago substitute Djordje Mihailovic equalized on one of the final kicks of the match.

The result leaves Sporting on 30 points, level with Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers at the summit of the West. Chicago, meanwhile, has taken hold of the 10th and final playoff position in the East and snapped a four-game losing streak against Sporting that dated back to 2017.

Tasked with playing a fifth match in 15 days, Sporting Kansas City fielded a lineup that featured five changes from Wednesday’s controversial 1-0 loss at FC Dallas.

Center back Winston Reid reprised his role in place of Andreu Fontas, a new-look midfield featured three fresh faces in Kinda, Ilie Sanchez and 19-year-old Cam Duke, and forward Johnny Russell returned to the starting XI as part of a three-man attack alongside Hurtado and 18-year-old Gianluca Busio, who was notably deployed as a winger for the first time this season.

Hurtado made headlines for his Goal of the Week winner in last Sunday’s defeat of Nashville SC and almost bagged another wonderstrike in the 11th minute when he galloped onto Melia’s booming long ball over the top and fired a volley wide of the near post from a tight angle on the right flank.

A fleeting chance fell to Chicago four minutes later as Spanish playmaker Alvaro Medran whipped a free kick into the penalty area, and although a shot fell invitingly to former Sporting forward C.J. Sapong near the penalty spot, Ilie and Reid were both there to block the effort and extinguish the danger.

Sapong was stymied once more from point-blank range in the 19th minute when Melia produced a phenomenal reflex stop on the heels of a well-orchestrated set piece by Chicago.

The game’s first goal belonged to Sporting in the 35th minute. Kinda did brilliantly to steal possession in midfield, peel away from a defender and charge forward before rolling a ball into the path of Hurtado, who withstood a stiff arm from Chicago’s Wyatt Omsberg and poked a crisp finish past goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

Kinda tabbed his third assist on the play, while Hurtado provisionally became the only MLS player to notch four goals in less than 300 regular season minutes this year.

In first-half stoppage time, VAR Hilario Grajeda aided the Fire in their bid for a leveler. Medran’s looping corner was headed high into the air by Duke, kept alive by Omsberg and fired goalward by Beric on the left side of the box.

The piledriver beat the outstretched Melia, and although Amadou Dia thought he had conjured a heroic goal line clearance, video review prompted official David Gantar to award the equalizer.

After neither side carved out an opening through the first 20 minutes of the second stanza, another point of controversy arose when Duke won a challenge inside the box and was whacked by Medran. Much to Sporting’s dismay, the official waved play to resume and video review did not take place.

Sporting retained attacking initiative despite the denial of its penalty protests, and substitute Roger Espinoza gave Chicago a scare in the 78th minute when his long-range missile screamed a few feet off target. Sapong then tried his luck at the opposite end, his low-driven attempt dragging wide of Melia’s right-hand post.

The 83rd minute delivered Sporting’s second go-ahead goal of the afternoon. Russell’s near-post corner kick was glanced across the face of goal by the head of Ilie, allowing Kinda to nod home on the doorstep for his fifth tally of the campaign.

The play marked the seventh time Sporting has scored from a corner kick this season, tied for the most in MLS. Additionally, Kinda is one of four MLS newcomers — including Sporting striker Alan Pulido — with five goals and three assists in 2020.

Faced with its second deficit of the day, Chicago took swing in the 84th minute as substitute Elliot Collier settled a cross at the far post, cut onto his right boot and curled inches over the crossbar.

Busio then went close to sealing all three points, but his 30-yard sledgehammer skipped marginally wide in the 86th minute.

The Fire stole an unlikely equalizer deep into added time. With 95 minutes on the clock, Mihailovic raced onto a floated ball in behind the Sporting defense, rounded Melia, took another touch and slotted into the gaping net to ensure a splitting of the points.

With a grueling run of matches in the rearview mirror, Sporting will have a full week to prepare for its next fixture against the Colorado Rapids (5-4-4, 19 points).

Next Saturday’s clash at Children’s Mercy Park is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with tickets available at SeatGeek.com and live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports GO.

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