Four days after leaving Portland with their first-ever victory against the Timbers, the Fire continued their three-game road swing to face Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas’s eponymous city, looking for their second road win in a row and fourth against a Western Conference foe this year.
Mission accomplished. In a match in which the home team dominated possession but where real chances may have well favored the visitors, the Fire managed a 1-0 victory off a Fabian Herbers goal in the opening minutes of the second half. Although that would represent the sum total of the match’s scoring, Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas can return home to Chicago happy that his squad played bravely throughout, seeming confident both in possession and while defending.
Whether out of a determination to not mess with what worked – or because lagging injuries and legs game-worn from international duty – Klopas decided to keep the team in the 4-2-3-1 formation that bested the Timbers midweek and kept 10 of the starting 11 players from that match. The sole change – Kei Kamara, playing in the city his family still calls home – had the nod in place of Kacper Przybyłko at striker. Even though his starting selection didn’t change much, Klopas’s bench did, as he had both Xherdan Shaqiri, freshly returned from international duty, and Carlos Terán, freshly returned from a long-term injury, available off the bench.
For their part, the hosts would roll out a starting XI that included most of the best offensive talent on the Kansas City roster, including the return of Johnny Russell to the starting lineup for the first time since an injury a month ago, alongside Alan Pulido, who missed the first third of Kansas City’s season with injury.
Despite the sweltering heat, with the heat index nearing the triple digits at kickoff, necessitating a mandatory hydration break at the 30th minute – the first half showed plenty of action. The Fire started the match the better side, with Herbers – once again a starting winger after finding himself shifted largely to a midfield position earlier in the season – getting multiple good looks on goal but he was unable to find the back of the net in the opening minutes of the game.
Kansas City grew into the match and by the midway point of the first half, they were the team with the majority of possession and the best looks on goal, and Brady would be tested multiple times. The Fire would defend with all XI, with Brady making a lounging save in the 23rd minute, Mauricio Pineda breaking up multiple dangerous plays from Kansas City and Kei Kamara joining in on defensive efforts to keep the score at 0-0 at the conclusion of the first half as both teams headed to the locker room (and merciful air conditioning it would provide).
The second half would start much as the first did, with the Fire coming off strong, but this time, Herbers efforts would not go unrewarded. Brian Gutiérrez played up field before laying it off to a wide Jairo Torres, whose shot would be deflected before being recovered by Fabian Herbers, slipping the ball past Sporting KC’s Kendall McIntosh and putting the Fire ahead in the 48th minute.
The home team would not go quietly into the night, however, and just three minutes later, Kansas City’s Dániel Sallói would get the ball to Johnny Russell a handful of yards from the Chris Brady’s net. Arnaud Souquet was there, however, getting a crucial toe on the ball that ensured that the Fire would maintain their lead. Kansas City would continue to buzz, as Sporting KC’s head coach would again turn to his bench for a creative spark, taking Johnny Russell and Erik Thommy off in favor of Gadi Kinda and Marinos Tzionis.
In the 57th minute, Brian Gutiérrez would play the ball deep in the Fire’s half to Fabian Herbers – already with a goal to his credit – who would return the favor, but the play didn’t result in a goal and that would end Fabi’s contribution to the game, as he was taken off in favor of Maren Haile-Selassie. Gastón Giménez’s night, too, would be over, in favor of Xherdan Shaqiri.
The team stayed in the familiar 4-2-3-1, with Jairo Torres shifting to Giménez’s defensive midfield spot, Shaqiri taking the #10 role with Gutiérrez and Haile-Selassie flanking. Initially, Kansas City would keep the pressure up, but the Fire would refuse to be bowed, even as the team’s back line would accumulate cards, with Mauricio Pineda and Arnaud Souquet receiving yellows, joining captain Rafael Czichos in referee Alan Chilowicz’s book.
Despite the bookings, however, it would be Alonso Aceves – the one player on the Fire’s back line without a caution – who would be substituted next, ceding his spot for Jonathan Dean, as Carlos Terán also came on for his first minutes since leaving the match against St. Louis with an injury.
The substitutions, though, would fail to change the time of the game, as Kansas City would continue to have the lion’s share of the possession as the second half wore on, but the Fire would continue to get looks and would start to create some of their own pressure. Klopas would again look to reinforce his squad as Georgios Koutsias would find his way on to the pitch for Gutiérrez as the match entered stoppage time.
Sporting Kansas City refused to relent, and both Brady and the defensive line had to be sharp in stoppage time, with Terán making a notable clearance in the 91st minute. In the end, however, the hosts would end the match empty handed as the Fire would win back-to-back games for the first time this season and two consecutive games on the road for the first time since 2013.