The drought commenced April 17 in front of a national TV audience, inside the home park of the top team in Major League Soccer. On that evening, Sporting Kansas City scored an early goal, only to watch FC Dallas respond with two of its own to close out a victory.
The blown lead started a string of 12 road matches without a single Sporting win.
Some 168 days later, in the midst of a battle for its postseason life, Sporting ended the drought in the unlikeliest of settings.
After relinquishing an early lead, Sporting turned defender Kevin Ellis’ 81st-minute goal into a 2-1 road win Saturday, its first victory in San Jose since 2000.
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“I’ve never won personally in San Jose, so it was really, really great for that to finally happen,” Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber told reporters after the match. “After dropping points at home, it was essential that we were able to grab some on the road. And grabbing three is obviously huge in this race that’s so tight right now.”
In the process of ending an 18-match winless streak in San Jose, Sporting significantly bolstered its hopes for a sixth consecutive MLS postseason berth. The club received some help earlier Saturday from the Houston Dynamo, which defeated the Portland Timbers, allowing Sporting to move into fifth place in the MLS Western Conference. It is eight points clear of seventh-place Seattle Sounders FC. Six teams from each conference qualify for the postseason.
Sporting has only three matches remaining in the regular season — road trips to New England to face the Revolution and Utah to face Real Salt Lake before closing out the schedule with a home match against San Jose on Oct. 23.
Ellis put the club in a much more comfortable position as it heads into the final stretch. In the 81st minute, he connected his heel with a crossing pass from Benny Feilhaber, and the ball trickled across the goal line. It was Ellis’ first goal of the season.
“He has incredible timing in the (goalie) box,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “He has good instincts around the goal, and I think guys underestimate him because of his size.”
Dom Dwyer opened the scoring only seven minutes into the match Saturday — which had an early three-minute delay for an injury to San Jose forward Quincy Amarikwa. Dwyer headed home a pass from midfielder Paulo Nagamura after the Earthquakes’ back line failed to mark him.
Following the goal, Sporting slid back to protect the lead —and it held San Jose without a shot on target for the next half hour — before Simon Dawkins tied it in the 42nd minute. In conjunction with a theme from 2016, the goal followed a Sporting KC blunder. Dawkins pounced on a slow-rolling ball after defender Nuno Coelho whiffed on an opportunity to clear the ball from danger.
After Dwyer’s goal, Sporting did not record another shot on goal until Ellis struck late. San Jose tested goalkeeper Tim Melia with three shots that required difficult saves.
But that was a productive formula for the the club’s first road victory since April 9, when it shut out the New York Red Bulls in the second road trip of the season. Over the ensuing 12 road matches, Sporting was 0-8-4.
The victory finally came Saturday.
“Obviously it’s just a huge (late) goal for us,” Vermes said. “We really realized these three points were going to be huge for us going into the last four games.”