Four different goal scorers powered Sporting Kansas City to victory in a devastating 4-1 away win over archrival St. Louis City SC in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round Best-of-3 series on Sunday night at cold and rainy CityPark.
Logan Ndenbe, Remi Walter and Gadi Kinda bagged sensational first-half goals before Daniel Salloi sealed the emphatic result with a 61st-minute finish as an unplayable Sporting side collected its third road playoff win ever and its first since 2011. The dominant performance saw Manager Peter Vermes’ men score the second-most goals by a visiting team in the 28-year history of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and leave St. Louis with the heaviest defeat of its inaugural MLS season.
With a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 matchup, Sporting will play for a series-clinching victory next Sunday, Nov. 5, when the rivals meet again for an all-important Game 2 at Children’s Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. CT with live coverage on MLS Season Pass via Apple TV and a limited number of tickets available online at SeatGeek.
Vermes deployed a lineup that featured two changes from Wednesday’s dramatic Wild Card match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Kinda started in place of fellow Designated Player Erik Thommy, while winger Khiry Shelton replaced club captain Johnny Russell. Both fresh faces to the XI would impact the game significantly, as Shelton recorded an assist and Kinda became the first player in club history to amass three goal contributions (one goal, two assists) in a playoff match.
The visitors created a scare for the zealous home crowd in the 12th minute, cleverly attacking down the left side of the penalty area through Kinda, Salloi and Alan Pulido, but the final product failed to test St. Louis goalkeeper Roman Burki. A moment later, Shelton did well to preserve possession and elude a tackler in the box before finding Salloi, whose low drive skipped across the wet turf and wide of the mark.
Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia, a hero in Wednesday’s shootout win over San Jose, was summoned to action for the first time on 21 minutes, dropping instinctively to cast aside Indiana Vassilev’s venomous long-range blast after a St. Louis set piece was only partially cleared. The hosts had another dangerous set piece opportunity go begging shortly thereafter as Eduard Lowen’s driven delivery fizzed wide of the far post.
Ndenbe fired Sporting ahead in spectacular fashion on 27 minutes, dispatching his first goal as a professional from 20 yards out. Receiving a pass in a central area, Pulido drifted left and spread a pass wide to the 23-year-old Belgian, who took a settling touch before picking out the top right corner with a heat-seeking rocket that left Burki firmly beaten. Sporting had scored a first-half goal in a road playoff game for the first time since 2003, but the roaring visitors were far from done.
Sporting’s advantage lasted just 1 minute and 53 seconds. St. Louis restored parity near the half-hour mark through center back Tim Parker, who slotted low across Melia after Sporting failed to repel Vassilev’s out-swinging corner kick. The equalizer rejuvenated CityPark and St. Louis could have surged in front a few minutes later, but Melia stretched out to produce a smart save on Joao Klauss’ piledriver.
Vermes’ side enjoyed its best three-minute stretch of the season with another pair of sublime strikes in the 36th and 39th minutes that stunned CityPark into silence, save a section of joyful Sporting supporters in the upper deck. Walter vaulted Sporting back into the lead with a pinpoint finish from the top of the box, bagging his first playoff goal off an assist from Salloi, who kept the ball alive after St. Louis had initially cut out Pulido’s pullback pass and blocked Kinda’s instinctive shot at close range.
Purring with confidence, Sporting went two goals to the good on a golazo of unmistakable quality. Shelton rose high to win a 50-50 challenge off Melia’s long goal kick and the ball stuck the feet of Kinda, who embarked on a mazy run to create space before curling a world-class 25-yarder into the back of the net, opening his MLS postseason scoring account in style.
Up 3-1 at the break, Sporting kept their foot on the pedal by creating the first two chances of the second period. Salloi was involved in both, forcing a reflex save from Burki on a shot that punctuated an incisive attack involving Pulido and Shelton down the right channel in the 52nd minute, then uncorking a right-footed effort that deflected high and prompted Burki to make a reactionary stop.
Salloi would not be denied his piece of the prize, however, and notched his deserved goal at the hour juncture. Kinda’s out-swinging corner kick from the right flag was met at the near post by Pulido, whose glancing header to the back stick was poked home on the doorstep by an unmarked Salloi. The play saw Sporting equal a club record with four goals in a playoff match, having previously accomplished the feat in 2002 and 2018. With his involvement in the scoring play, Pulido tabbed the first multi-assist game of his MLS career since July 2020 at the MLS is Back Tournament. Moreover, Pulido (15 goals, five assists) and Salloi (nine goals, 11 assists) remain tied for the team lead with 20 goal contributions apiece this season in all competitions.
Melia did well to keep Sporting’s three-goal cushion intact with a brilliant stop in the 73rd minute, denying Klauss what would have been an excellent long-range goal. Sporting’s veteran keeper added another save eight minutes later, corralling Njabulo Blom’s hopeful attempt from outside the box, before saving his best stop for the final moments, spreading low to punch aside Klauss’ towering header on the edge of the six-yard area.
Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs
Western Conference Round One Best-of-3 Series | Game 1
CityPark | St. Louis, Missouri
Weather: 42 degrees and rainy
Sporting Kansas City
St. Louis City SC
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Jake Davis, Dany Rosero, Andreu Fontas, Logan Ndenbe; Nemanja Radoja, Remi Walter, Gadi Kinda (Erik Thommy 74'); Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido (C) (Roger Espinoza 86'), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Robert Castellanos, Graham Zusi, Felipe Gutierrez, Felipe Hernandez, Johnny Russell, Marinos Tzionis
St. Louis City SC: Roman Burki (C); Jake Nerwinski (Akil Watts 80'), Tim Parker, Joakim Nilsson, Anthony Markanich (Kyle Hiebert 59'); Indiana Vassilev (Celio Pompeu 80'), Eduard Loewen (Niko Gioacchini 73'), Njabulo Blom, Jared Stroud; Aziel Jackson (Sam Adeniran 59'), Joao Klauss
Subs Not Used: Ben Lundt, Lucas Bartlett, Josh Yaro, Tomas Ostrak
SKC -- Logan Ndenbe 1 (Alan Pulido 1, Gadi Kinda 1) 27'
STL -- Tim Parker 1 (unassisted) 28'
SKC -- Remi Walter 1 (Daniel Salloi 1) 36'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda 1 (Khiry Shelton 1) 39'
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 1 (Alan Pulido 2, Gadi Kinda 2) 61'
SKC -- Gadi Kinda (yellow card; dissent) 15'
STL -- Aziel Jackson (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 45'
STL -- Jared Stroud (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 58'
STL -- Eduard Lowen (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 70'
STL -- Njabulo Blom (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 78'
STL -- Sam Adeniran (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 87'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Ted Unkel
Assistant Referee: Cory Richardson
Assistant Referee: Ryan Graves
Fourth Official: Sergii Boiko
VAR: Daniel Radford
AVAR: Kyle Atkins