Sporting Kansas City (15-7-6, 51 points) is back atop the Western Conference following a 5-1 road win over the San Jose Earthquakes (4-16-8, 20 points) on Saturday night at Avaya Stadium.
Manager Peter Vermes’ side occupy first place, where they spent 15 consecutive weeks until relinquishing the spot at the start of July, thanks to a two-goal, two-assist performance from Gerso Fernandes, along with goals from Felipe Gutierrez, Ike Opara and Krisztian Nemeth.
Sporting KC now has six wins in the club’s last seven matches as the squad scored five goals in a regular season road game for only the second time, the last coming on April 29, 2000.
The offensive outburst increased the team’s attacking haul to 54 goals in 2018 – the most since KC’s first two seasons (61 in 1996, 57 in 1997) — with six games still remaining.
Saturday’s rout started in the 18th minute as Gutierrez struck for a second straight match and seventh time this season.
Fernandes broke free from Nick Lima on the left flank and delivered a cross to Gutierrez for a first-time finish at the near post with his left foot.
The goal, Sporting Kansas City’s 400th away from home in the team’s regular season history, was the first of three first-half road goals, a feat the team last accomplished in 2007 and had pulled off only three times prior.
Within five minutes of opening the scoring, Sporting Kansas City’s lead doubled and it was once again the duo of Fernandes and Gutierrez teaming up for what proved to be the game-winning goal. Gutierrez, from inside the center circle, picked out the perfectly-timed run of Fernandes, who raced onto the pass and clipped a clever chip over the outrushing Andrew Tarbell that settled inside the far post.
Sporting Kansas City were inches from finding a third goal in the 32nd minute when Tarbell sprung to his right for a superb fingertip save to keep out Yohan Croizet’s effort from the edge of the penalty area.
Tarbell was called into action again in the 41st minute on a buildup by the visitors that culminated with Gutierrez nearly scoring his second of the night if not for a sprawling stop by the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper.
Nevertheless, Sporting Kansas City secured the 3-0 lead on the ensuing corner which was kept alive inside the box by Seth Sinovic.
Roger Espinoza unleashed a left-footed shot from near the penalty mark that was too hot to handle for Tarbell and Opara was first to pounce on the rebound for his second goal of the season and 14th of his career.
A first half that produced three goals and not a single foul committed by either side – a first in MLS history – would be followed by a second half with three more goals in the cards.
Gutierrez and Fernandes played their part yet again in the 67th minute, with the Chilean international pinging a pass into the path of Fernandes behind the Earthquakes’ backline.
Fernandes astutely spotted the parallel run of Nemeth to his right and unselfishly set up his fellow forward to officially re-open a scoring account that had 16 goals in 2015 prior to Nemeth returning to Sporting Kansas City last month.
Fernandes then put an exclamation point on his man-of-the-match performance in the 86th minute with the help of two second-half substitutes fresh off international duty. Johnny Russell and Diego Rubio came off the bench and combined on the right channel, allowing Rubio — who now has a goal or assist in eight straight appearances — to float a cross met by the outside of Fernandes’ left foot with a volley that nestled into the back of the net.
On the opposite end of the field, reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia recorded four saves in the victory and was 10 minutes from a League-leading 13th clean sheet on Saturday.
After surviving a scare when Jahmir Hyka’s right-footed attempt hit the crossbar in the 58th minute, Melia was finally beaten by Danny Hoesen in the 80th minute with a bender from distance to spoil the shutout.
Sporting KC will remain on the road next Sunday when the team vists the Philadelphia Union (12-12-4, 40 points), the lone opponent Sporting KC is yet to face in 2018, in a nationally-televised match on ESPN.
– Story from Sporting KC