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Sporting Suffers First Road Loss of Season In 2-1 Setback Against Houston Dynamo

(Sept. 5, 2020) — Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (5-3-2, 17 points) suffered their first road loss of the season on Saturday, falling 2-1 to third-place Houston Dynamo (3-2-4, 13 points) at BBVA Stadium.

Forward Erik Hurtado punctuated his first start of the season by firing the visitors ahead on the half-hour mark, but a pair of second-half Houston substitutes provided game-changing impacts as Alberth Elis equalized and Mauro Manotas headed home a late match-winner to give the Dynamo their third straight victory.

Still occupying first place in the West, Sporting will have a full week of recuperation and preparation prior to hosting regional rivals Minnesota United FC next Sunday, Sept. 13, at Children’s Mercy Park in a game that will air on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.

Manager Peter Vermes continued his squad rotation on Saturday as Sporting Kansas City took the field for the fifth time in 16 days. Five changes adorned the starting XI, highlighted by the 300th career MLS start for captain Matt Besler, Hurtado leading the attack and left back Amadou Dia making his first Sporting start since April 2016. Midfielder Gadi Kinda returned from a red card suspension, joining Academy products Gianluca Busio and Felipe Hernandez in the center of the park, while veteran Graham Zusi-who was a midfield substitute in Wednesday’s 1-1 home draw against FC Dallas-was deployed as a winger for the first time since the 2016 playoffs.

A tepid start to proceedings saw neither side threaten until the 19th minute when Houston forwards Darwin Quintero and Christian Ramirez combined intricately at the top of the box before playing through to Niko Hansen, but Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia produced a reflex save and pounced on the loose ball before it crossed the goal line.

The breakthrough fell to Sporting in the 30th minute on a wonderfully worked buildup from the back that involved 10 different players touching the ball in a breathtaking sequence. The flowing move culminated with Kinda exploiting a pocket of space and slipping an intelligent through ball to Shelton, whose low piledriver from the left side of the box was blocked by the outstretched foot of Houston goalkeeper Marko Maric. The on-running Hurtado was there to stab the rebound into the roof of the net, bagging his second goal of the season and his fourth since arriving in Kansas City in 2019. Sporting have now scored in their first 10 matches of the season for the first time since 2007 and are the only MLS team yet to be shut out in 2020.

Both teams exchanged chances on the brink of halftime, with Zusi curling a strike just over the crossbar and Ramirez rattling the woodwork after running onto Quintero’s clever feed.

Houston seized greater initiative in the second period and drew level in the 59th minute through Elis, who had entered the game just one minute earlier. Quintero lofted a diagonal pass from the left edge of the box to the opposite side, where an open Darwin Ceren steered a cross low for Elis to prod past Melia. The Honduran now has two goals and three assists during Houston’s three-game winning run, with both strikes coming against Sporting.

End-to-end action would unfold over the next 10 minutes as Sporting and Houston searched for a go-ahead goal. Melia dove left to turn away a blistering long-range blast from Quintero in the 65th minute, less than 60 seconds before Kinda intercepted a pass and played centrally to Zusi, who unleashed a 20-yard effort that bent wide of Maric’s left-hand post.

Melia again spared Sporting’s blushes in the 76th minute, denying substitute Ariel Lassiter on the breakaway. Lassiter, the son of former Kansas City forward Roy Lassiter, tried rounding Melia on the breakaway, but the Sporting keeper did brilliantly to get his left glove on the ball and extinguish the danger.

The Dynamo landed their fatal blow with 85 minutes on the clock. Right back Zarek Valentin was afforded room to cross from the right flank and whipped a ball into the mixer for Manotas to head into the back of the net at close range. The goal was the 50th of Manotas’ regular season career and his eighth against Sporting in all competitions dating back to 2016.

Manotas nearly added to his tally in second-half stoppage time, only for his venomous attempt to be turned away as Melia recorded his fourth and final save of the night.

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