Latif Blessing – Sporting KC – Scores equalizer vs Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla.- It’s not quite how Peter Vermes drew it up, but he certainly wasn’t surprised to see striker Latif Blessing step in for the suspended Dom Dwyer and grab both Sporting Kansas City goals in the determined 2-2 draw at Orlando City SC.

Sporting became the first team to take points off the Lions in their new home, and it was largely down to the goalmouth instincts of the 5-foot-7, 20-year-old Blessing, making his first start for the team after a mere 36 minutes off the bench in his debut MLS season.

And the head coach was fulsome in his praise for the pint-sized poacher, who opened his scoring account for Kansas City early on, jumping on a loose ball after a Gerso cross, and then bagged a tap-in equalizer after a similar right-wing raid from the same attacking player.

“He is obviously a very busy guy, very quick, and he’s a bit an X-factor,” Vermes said. “He has a great nose for goal, incredible instincts in and around the attacking third, and those were two very opportunistic goals tonight.

“But we expected that he would be difficult to deal with, because of his size and his quickness. We figured he would be a different player that they weren’t used to seeing before, but the fact he lasted as long as he did [82 minutes] was the big thing for me. He gave a great, great effort tonight, and that’s what I commend him for the most.”

Orlando head coach Jason Kreis admitted that the rookie striker making his first start definitely caught them out, as it was something they hadn’t planned for.

“No, we didn’t expect him up there,” Kreis confessed. “We expected Soony Saad would play, so it took us a little bit by surprise. There is not a whole lot of scouting material on him. But, as we saw, he’s a quick guy, and a guy who was Johnny on the Spot, in the right place at the right time.

“But I thought all three of their front players were dangerous. They are extremely talented as individuals and their combinations were really good. Overall, it was a difficult game against a high-quality opponent. I was really pleased with my guys’ effort, commitment and togetherness, and I think a draw was a fair result.”

Vermes was delighted to end a two-game road losing skid, but thought his men might have done even better with the amount of possession they enjoyed, with almost 62 percent of the ball.

“At times we were extremely impatient around the box,” he added. “We could have moved the ball a lot more, which would have created more holes for us to play through. That’s what happened with both our goals.”

Orlando actually got what they thought was a winner shortly after Blessing’s equalizer, when defender Jose Aja headed home a 76th minute corner. But the assistant referee’s flag was immediately raised to rule the effort out. Referee Ricardo Salazar was quick to give the officials’ explanation afterwards.

“At the taking of the corner kick, the ball leaves the field of play and comes back in,” he said. “The assistant referee raises his flag and communicates to the referee what has happened. Therefore we have to disallow it.”