KANSAS CITY, KAN — It had been months since Children’s Mercy Park saw more than a one-goal allotment of confetti. Before Saturday’s 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City hadn’t scored twice at home since May 26, when they beat Seattle 3-2.
Defender Graham Smith, who hasn’t been a regular starter for most of the season, scored the elusive second goal, and the first of his career, in the 76th minute.
SKC trailed 1-0 at the half after the Earthquakes launched 15 shot attempts in the first half, including a header from Chris Wondolowski off a 25th minute free kick.
“We just talked about (at halftime) how ‘there’s no way we’re losing this game,’” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We’re not losing this game. I think we had the right game plan, I think the guys played flawlessly to the game plan, and other than the free kick that they scored, we were very good. We fought for everything.”
The spark finally appeared early in the second half, straight off Benny Feilhaber’s left-footed, 50th-minute equalizer. Johnny Russell popped a ball up to Jimmy Medranda, who got it over to Feilhaber. The veteran midfielder took a low, half-volley, sending the ball past goalkeeper Daniel Vega.
“All I know is I kicked it with my left foot, and it somehow went in the goal,” Feilhaber said. “You know that doesn’t happen very often. … Thankfully it was bouncing a little bit. That’s what kind of helps me with my left foot. If it’s on the ground, there’s no chance. A little baby bounce helped me.”
From that point, SKC, and the home crowd, displayed a level of energy missing in the first half. More chances were created, and defensively Sporting finally kept pace with San Jose’s speed. Eventually it paid of. After being shoved down near the corner of the 18-yard box, Russell took a curled free kick that hit the post. Smith pounced on the rebound for the tap-in.
Aug 17, 2019; Kansas City, KS, USA; A general view of a soccer ball on the field at Children's Mercy Park before a game between Sporting Kansas City and the San Jose Earthquakes. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports
“I went into the box kind of late so I think that’s why I wasn’t picked up,” Smith said. “Johnny had a good free kick, and it just kind of bounced to me. If I can’t finish that, I probably shouldn’t be on the field.”
The final whistle blew, and the crowd’s reaction was part celebration, part cathartic. Sporting has been on a downhill slide all summer – the fans had seen only two wins at home since the beginning of April.
Despite that, Sporting KC is still in contention for a spot in the playoffs.
“Is it going to make any difference in us making the playoffs and making a run in the playoffs?” Feilhaber said. “Honestly, I don’t know. Whatever the percentages are, they’re probably not that high right now. Having said that, I’ve seen weirder things in MLS.”