Sporting KC ties Rapids with Russell’s late kick

Johnny Russell buried a free kick in the 88th minute to earn Sporting Kansas City a 1-1 draw in dramatic fashion against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday night.

Sporting Kansas City had a busy schedule of six gamesin 18 days, including road matches in four different time zones and three countries.

Nearly a year after Sporting stunned the Rapids with a 91st-minute equalizer from a second-half substitute at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last March, the stage was set once again for similar late-game theatrics as Sporting secured another road result in Colorado.

Russell, who contributed 12 goals and 13 assists in his debut season last year, beat Tim Howard with a curling set piece strike to cancel out the game’s opening goal from former Sporting forward Diego Rubio.

A first half that started with an early attempt on target from Rapids midfielder Nicolas Mezquida inside the opening 20 seconds of the match went on to produce just one additional shot on goal.

In the 28th minute, Felipe Gutierrez, whose free kick from the right edge of the penalty went narrowly wide of the near post five minutes before, forced a save from Howard with his effort on the endline despite the acute angle.

The Rapids captain, playing the final season of his storied career between the posts, was nearly punished for a careless giveaway on the cusp of halftime however Roger Espinoza’s left-footed chip from 25 yards out caromed off the top of the crossbar with Howard caught out of position.

Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia wasn’t as fortunate with a costly giveaway of his own in the 54th minute that saw the hosts open the scoring on their first shot in more than 30 minutes of play.

A short goal kick to Matt Besler was played back to Melia, whose touch allowed Rubio to pounce with an alert finish that snatched a 1-0 lead against the run of play and against his former team.

Gutierrez continued to create chances for Sporting in search of the equalizer and ran onto a pinpoint pass from Russell in the 68th minute. The Chilean World Cup veteran did well to direct a shot toward target, however Howard raced off his line to intervene and snuff out the danger.

The Rapids were inches from doubling their lead in the 78th minute when Kelyn Acosta’s free kick deflected off Gutierrez mid-flight and crashed into the crossbar. Moments later, Acosta was replaced by Johan Blomberg for what proved to be an eventful eight-minute shift – whistling a shot just wide seconds after stepping onto the field before then picking up two yellow cards in a seven-minute span, first for a foul on Gutierrez in the 80th minute then for time wasting in the 87th minute after Gianluca Busio won a game-changing free kick for Sporting.

With the ball positioned five yards outside the penalty area and five yards to the right of the near post, Russell curled a perfectly-placed set piece into the back of the net to rescue a result on the road with his first goal of 2019 in memorable fashion. The direct free kick goal was only the second of the MLS campaign and the team’s first since Benny Feilhaber, now a member of the Rapids, scored from a set piece in 2015.

After navigating the strenuous stretch of six matches in 18 days, Sporting Kansas City will now have 12 days to prepare for the team’s next regular season match against the Montreal Impact at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Tickets are available on SeatGeek.com.

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