By: Luis Carlos Gutierrez
Photos: Walfri Rodas
(March 10, 2019) — Sporting Kansas City secured their first league win of the 2019 MLS season on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-0 at Children’s Mercy Park.
Ilie Sanchez buried an early penalty kick, goalkeeper Tim Melia saved a penalty of his own, and a late own goal sealed the result as Sporting (1-1-0, 3 points) rolled to victory over the 10-man Union (0-2-0, 0 points), who were reduced to 10 men when Marco Fabian received a straight red card in the 60th minute.
Melia’s penalty save to deny Fabian was one of his four stops on the day, which helped Sporting to their first shutout of Philadelphia in 14 MLS meetings between the sides.
Juggling two prominent competitions simultaneously, Manager Peter Vermes reshuffled his lineup from Wednesday’s 2-1 first-leg defeat at Independiente in the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals. Midfielder Ilie Sanchez and central defenders Matt Besler and Botond Barath retained their starting roles, while eight others earned starts after resting or coming off the bench four days earlier in Panama. Among them was 16-year-old Sporting KC Academy product Gianluca Busio, who became the youngest MLS starter in Children’s Mercy Park history.
Busio wasted little time asserting his presence, drawing a penalty kick in the ninth minute after Johnny Russell and Krisztian Nemeth exchanged passes in the penalty area. Auston Trusty toppled Busio from behind in a bid to win the loose ball, and referee Chris Penso immediately pointed to the spot. Ilie stepped up to bury the ensuing attempt, expertly picking out the right corner for his third goal of the 2019 campaign in all competitions and his second in as many matches.
The Union had boasted a 4-1-2 regular-season record against Sporting in the previous seven meetings between the clubs, and the visitors were awarded a major opportunity to equalize five minutes before halftime. Seth Sinovic was penalized for a handball infraction inside the box, but Fabian was thwarted from 12 yards as Melia dove low to his right to push aside the Mexican international’s attempt. The 32-year-old has now saved eight penalties in the regular season since the start of 2016, three more than any other MLS goalkeeper during that time.
Sporting could have doubled their lead on the stroke of intermission, only to see Busio and Krisztian Nemeth’s close-range efforts blocked in a crowded goalmouth.
Melia was called into action again in the 49th minute, leaping at full extension to parry a seething, long-range bomb from Cory Burke. At the opposite end, a Russell free kick was repelled only as far as Felipe Gutierrez, whose booming volley on the rebound was deflected inches over the crossbar.
Fabian’s miserable outing worsened on the hour mark when he was ejected after stomping on Russell in Philadelphia’s defensive third. On the free kick that followed, Graham Zusi’s sweetly struck curler bent over the wall and rattled the woodwork.
0Burke almost restored parity with 69 minutes on the clock, rising to snap a powerful header on goal from Haris Medunjanin’s cross, but Melia’s superb performance continued with a clean snag in mid-air.
Eight minutes later, Busio nearly bagged the first home goal of his professional career. He dashed onto Ilie’s lovely delivery over the top and took a touch around Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, but the bouncing ball was hammered clear before the 16-year-old could pull the trigger.
The hosts clinched all three points in the 80th minute when substitute Kelyn Rowe played Gerso Fernandes free down the right flank. The diminutive winger’s cross near the endline was inadvertently nodded into the back of the net by Philadelphia defender Jack Elliott, condemning the Union to their second straight loss to start the season.
With Sunday’s MLS contest in the books, Sporting will switch gears Thursday as the club battles Panamanian side Independiente in the decisive second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals.