Sporting Kansas City came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at Central FC in the club’s opening match of the 2016-17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League group stage at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago.
Defenders Seth Sinovic and Kevin Ellis bookended the scoring with their first goals of the season, while Marcus Joseph and Kenwyne Jones struck for the Sharks in a match that was scoreless at halftime but burst to life in the final 45 minutes. The result leaves Sporting Kansas City in second place in Group C, two points behind Vancouver Whitecaps FC with three group stage matches still to play.
Right back Saad Abdul-Salaam was the only player to retain his spot in Sporting Kansas City's starting XI from Saturday's a 2-2 draw at FC Dallas. The reshuffled lineup included a Sporting Kansas City debut for 21-year-old center back Amer Didic, who has played 21 matches this season for USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers. Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar returned from one-game suspensions to join Paulo Nagamura in the midfield, while Diego Rubio was flanked by Brad Davis and Connor Hallisey in a three-pronged attack. Between the posts, homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin earned his first Sporting KC appearance of 2016.
Kempin was called to action just two minutes into the match when target forward Jones got behind the Sporting Kansas City backline. The former English Premier League veteran — on loan from 2017 MLS expansion side Atlanta United FC — put his subsequent strike on target, but Kempin reacted low to his left to make the stop.
The visitors responded with their first clear chance in the 12th minute. An extended spell of possession culminated with Espinoza feeding Hallisey into space on the left side of the box, but his venomous blast rattled the near post before caroming into the side netting and out of play.
The same duo combined in the 28th minute as Hallisey picked out Espinoza on the edge of the penalty area. The Honduran international pulled the trigger from 18 yards, forcing goalkeeper Javon Sample into his first of four six on the evening.
Central FC threatened twice in the late stages of the first period. Joseph could only steer his low shot wide of Kempin’s lefthand post before Jones’ headed goal off an in-swinging free kick was disallowed after he clattered into Kempin on the edge of the six-yard box.
A pulsating second half saw both sides bag two goals, though Sporting Kansas City would dominate the final 20 minutes in search of a winner. The scoring opened in the 51st minute through Sinovic, who netted his third career goal in Sporting KC colors. Davis’ free kick from 25 yards struck the Central FC wall, but the midfielder kept the ball alive by lofting it to the far post. Sinovic was on hand to poke a deflected effort past Sample and give his side the lead.
The hosts responded with a vengeance, tallying a pair of goals within two minutes. Kempin made an initial save on Sean De Silva’s snapshot in the 54th minute, but Joseph pounced on the loose ball to rifle home from a tight angle on the right side of the penalty box. Jones then gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead after overlapping Joseph, receiving a perfectly weighted pass and firing just inside the near post to mark his Central FC debut with a goal.
Sporting Kansas City controlled the final half-hour and nearly equalized through Paulo Nagamura in the 65th minute, only for his right-footed rocket to find the outside of the netting from an acute angle in a crowded box. Left back Ever Alvarado made his Sporting Kansas City debut a minute later, replacing Sinovic after the goal scorer rolled his ankle in a divot a yard beyond the playing field.
Parity was restored once again in the 70th minute when Davis slipped an incisive through ball to Ellis, who had advanced upfield for a set piece less than a minute earlier. The homegrown center back cooly rounded the keeper before slotting into the net for his second career goal in the CONCACAF Champions League his the seventh for Sporting KC in all competitions.
Desperately seeking a third, Sporting Kansas City took a stranglehold of the affair in the waning embers of the match. Sample denied two players in quick succession with 15 minutes remaining, cleanly catching Rubio’s volley before pushing Davis’ well-hit strike wide of goal.
Central FC was pinned into its own box and would weather multiple waves of pressure in the final five minutes. An intricate buildup from Sporting KC in the 86th minute gave Rubio a good look at goal, but his low drive deflected through Sample’s legs and wide of the near post. Substitute Cameron Porter connected with Alvarado’s looping cross three minutes later, but the header lacked the pace and direction to beat the keeper. Sample may have saved his best save for last, springing at full extension to touch Nuno Coelho’s thunderous attempt just over the crossbar.
Sporting Kansas City will now travel 2,800 miles back home ahead of Saturday's MLS regular season match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. CT and a limited number of tickets for the all-important clash are still available via Ticketmaster.com.
Sporting KC (10-11-5, 35 points) is currently fifth in the Western Conference, five points ahead of eighth-place Vancouver (8-11-6, 30 points) and four points clear in the playoff race. Ticket holders are encouraged to arrive to the stadium early, as a variety of pregame festivities are scheduled before kickoff.
Central 2 v Sporting Kansas City 2
Joseph 54 Sinovic 51
Jones 56 Ellis 70
Sporting Kansas City: Jon Kempin; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Amer Didic, Kevin Ellis, Seth Sinovic (Ever Alvarado 66th); Paulo Nagamura (Nuno Coelho 67th), Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza (capt); Brad Davis, Diego Rubio, Connor Hallisey (Cameron Porter 81st).
Subs Not Used: Alec Kann, Lawrence Olum, Emmanuel Appiah, Tyler Pasher.
Central FC: Javon Sample; Elton John, Andre Ettienne (Yellow50), Keion Goodridge (Kaydion Gabriel 81st), Kevon Villaroel; Nathaniel Garcia, Leston Paul (capt), Marcus Joseph, Sean De Silva (Jason Marcano 76th), Darren Mitchell (Keron Cummings 53rd); Kenwyne Jones.
Subs Not Used: Akel Clarke, Nicholas Dillon, Jem Gordon, Johan Peltier.
Stats - SKC - v CFC
Shots 18 15
Shots on Goal 9 5
Saves 3 6
Fouls 11 15
Offside 4 3
Corner Kicks 8 2
SKC -- Seth Sinovic 1 (unassisted) 51
CFC -- Marcus Joseph 1 (Sean De Silva 1) 54
CFC -- Kenwyne Jones 1 (Marcus Joseph 1) 56
SKC -- Kevin Ellis 1 (Brad Davis 1) 70
Quotes: Sporting KC at Central FC: 2-2
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes
On the result...
"It's good to get a point out of here, but we should have gotten three. We were all over them on the left flank, on the right flank, we had so many chances all night long."
On Kevin [Ellis'] goal...
"It was a good ball in, he made a good run actually. He made a very good run. It comes back from his days being a forward. But he made a really good run in the box, good ball in to him and he has good presence around the keeper. He sees that he's out and he gets around him and just tucks it into the back of the net. It definitely was not an easy finish, but he made it look easy."
On Amer Didic's performance...
"He did a very good job. He learned a lot as the game went on. It's not easy to play against a guy with that strength and power [Kenwyne Jones], but he learned very quickly."
Sporting KC midfielder Paulo Nagamura
On the match...
I think we are a little bit disappointed because we feel that we could have gotten much more than one point.
On the urgency heading into the next Champions League match at Vancouver...
We knew Vancouver had gotten three points here, but to be honest, we are not too concerned about them, we are mostly focused on ourselves. In my opinion, we should have gotten three points today. It was disappointing, but it's still the first game of the group stage. There are three games left and we have another chance to get those points on the road.
On returning to the starting lineup...
I felt all right. I felt a little tired toward the middle of the second half, but it was a good 60-70 minutes and I'm happy with the time. Now, I just need to keep working to gain my fitness back to be able to play 90 minutes. This year has been tough, I have had some struggles with injuries. I just want to get back with the team and help my teammates to win games.
Sporting KC defender Amer Didic
On making his Sporting KC debut...
It was good. I felt nervous at first, but once the game settled down, I thought I found my groove. It was definitely something I tried to enjoy, being my first time with Sporting KC. I thought we were unlucky with the draw, but overall it was pretty exciting, pretty sweet.
On going against Kenwyne Jones...
I knew going in that I would be man-marking him on set pieces. He's a big, physical presence. He holds the ball up every time he gets it. It's just a matter of keeping him in front of you to make him play backward. He's just a very talented player.