Sporting KC

A late comeback propels Sporting KC to massive victory in quest for West’s top seed

Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC improved its record to 11-8-8.
Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC improved its record to 11-8-8. AP file photo

The dismantling took place six months ago, but Sporting Kansas City warned it would linger with Vancouver, that its early-season blowout might play a factor in a rematch with playoff implications aplenty. “We’re expecting some real intensity from them,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes had said.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the intensity from Vancouver that was an overriding factor.

It was the late-arriving emotion from Sporting KC.

After a lifeless opening half, Sporting KC awoke just in time for a 4-1 comeback victory at Vancouver late Wednesday, pushing forward its hopes to return the postseason to Children’s Mercy Park for the first time since 2013.

“Massive,” a lively Vermes said in a postgame phone interview. “Mission accomplished on Game One. Now we move on to our next.”

It was a laugher in the final scoreline Wednesday, but forward Daniel Salloi provided the game-winner in the 82nd minute, a strike that felt every bit as much relief as thrill. Gianluca Busio and Salloi stamped extra-time goals, moving Sporting KC back into a second-place tie in the Western Conference with Los Angeles FC. Sporting KC trails first-place FC Dallas by just one point.

The fate lies within Sporting Kansas City’s hands. The final two games of the regular season? A trip to Dallas on Sunday, and a home date with LAFC the following weekend.

Sporting KC has secured its eighth straight postseason berth, but it has not earned a home playoff game since it lifted the MLS Cup in 2013, the last three years compromised by late-season slumps. A sign of familiarity, in that sense, came early Wednesday, with the club on a three-match winless streak yet not matching the required temperament within the match.

Vancouver scored the opener in the 42nd minute, midfielder Felipe Martins tucking a shot into the left corner only after a failed Sporting KC clearance. Salloi attempted to remove the ball from danger but instead centered the ball atop the edge of the box.

“We played fine in the first half — we were there; we knocked the ball around; but we never had any intensity or desire to just go at the other team and take the game. We just didn’t have it,” Vermes said.

The solution? The bench.

Vermes exhausted all three allotted substitutions by the 63rd minute. And as Busio stood at the midfield line to enter the match for Yohan Croizet, Croizet’s final action offered life. He blistered the back of the net for his third goal of the MLS season, tying the match in the 62nd minute moments before departing the field.

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Salloi struck 20 minutes later, assisted by substitute Khiry Shelton, who saw his most significant action since July. He had two assists. Vermes called him the difference-maker in the match for his hold-up play in the final third.

And the third substitute, Johnny Russell, connected with Busio for Busio’s first career MLS goal. At 16 years and 142 days old, Busio is the second youngest goal scorer in MLS history.

“All of those guys that came in just had an incredible impact,” Vermes said.

An impact on the game.

And a lasting one on the playoff standings. With games against FC Dallas and LAFC, Sporting KC can win the Western Conference’s top seed if it wins its final two matches. Vancouver is all but finished, three points shy of a playoff spot with two games left and on the wrong end of the tiebreaker.

Sporting KC defeated Vancouver 6-0 in April, a result that led to the aforementioned concern about its preparedness for Wednesday. And indeed it was.

For an hour.

The final 30 minutes reversed the course. And they set up a first-place showdown with FC Dallas on Sunday.

“We know we’re playing the best team in the West,” Vermes said. “We gotta get prepared for it, because it’s gonna be a battle.”

Sam McDowell

Sam McDowell covers Sporting Kansas City, the Royals, Chiefs and sports enterprise for The Star