On the brink of elimination from postseason contention, Sporting Kansas City went on the road to Real Salt Lake and emerged with a vital 3-2 victory on Saturday at America First Field in Sandy, Utah.
Designated Player Erik Thommy turned the Western Conference clash on its head just 36 seconds into the match when he dispossessed Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad and drew the fastest red card in MLS this season — albeit after video review following a no-call on the field by referee Ted Unkel — for being tugged down to deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
Thommy then stepped up to strike the ensuing set piece into the top corner to put Sporting a goal up and a man up within the first four minutes courtesy of the club’s first direct free kick goal in more than a year dating back to June 2022.
Playing with a man advantage for the first time this year in the regular season, Sporting would double the lead in the 29th minute on a well-worked buildup from the left channel. Thommy slipped a pass behind the Real Salt Lake backline for the overlapping run of Logan Ndenbe, who placed a pass perfectly into the path of club captain Johnny Russell for a first-time finish inside the far post.
With goals in back-to-back appearances and goals in both matches against Real Salt Lake this season, Russell becomes one of only three players in MLS with six or more goals in each of the past six seasons along with Luciano Acosta and Gyasi Zardes. Meanwhile, Logan Ndenbe earned the first MLS assist of his career and Thommy moved into a share of the team lead with 18 goal contributions in all competitions this season (five goals, 13 assists).
After a dominant first half in which Sporting outshot the hosts 7-1 and controlled two-thirds of the possession, RSL would refuse to go quietly in the second half of the club’s regular season home finale.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, who began his MLS career with Real Salt Lake in 2010, was called into action for the first time just after the hour mark and produced a superb save to deny Carlos Gomez in a one-on-one situation. Less than 10 minutes later, Real Salt Lake would find the back of the net through Anderson Julio only to see the goal disallowed as the offside flag was raised.
On the opposite end, Sporting scored what would prove to be the decisive third goal in the 77th minute after Logan Ndenbe was brought down inside the penalty area. Alan Pulido’s penalty attempt was momentarily turned away by Zac MacMath with one of his seven saves on the night, however Pulido alertly hammered home the rebound for his team-leading 15th goal of the season across all competitions to further bolster his MLS Comeback Player of the Year campaign after missing all of the 2022 season due to injury.
Despite going down 3-0 with 10 minutes to go and only 10 men on the field, Real Salt Lake would rally to pull two goals back beginning with a sensational strike from Brayan Vera from 30 yards out in the 81st minute. Julio would try his luck from even further out in the 87th minute, forcing Melia into his second save of the night, before Jefferson Savarino raced onto a long ball from Vera to slot home his team-leading seventh goal of the season in the 89th minute.
RSL would rattle off the final five shots of the match in search of a last-gasp equalizer, however Sporting KC emerged unscathed through a nervy eight minutes of second-half stoppage time to claim three highly valuable points in a tightly-contested Western Conference playoff race. Five teams remain in contention for the final three playoff berths, including Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United FC who are tied on 41 points and will meet on Oct. 21 at Children’s Mercy Park in a scintillating Decision Day showdown on the final day of the regular season.
2023 MLS Regular Season | Match 33
America First Field | Sandy, Utah
Weather: 66 degrees and clear
Sporting Kansas City (11-14-8, 41 points)
Real Salt Lake (13-12-7, 46 points)
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Jake Davis, Dany Rosero (Robert Castellanos 46'), Robert Voloder, Logan Ndenbe; Nemanja Radoja (Remi Walter 46'), Felipe Gutierrez, Erik Thommy (Gadi Kinda 58'); Johnny Russell (C) (Marinos Tzionis 74'), Alan Pulido (Willy Agada 82'), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Khiry Shelton
Real Salt Lake: Zac MacMath; Andrew Brody (Anderson Julio 82'), Bryan Oviedo (Maikel Chang 62'), Brayan Vera, Justen Glad; Braian Ojeda, Carlos Gomez (Bode Hidalgo 62'), Nelson Palacio, Diego Luna (Marcelo Silva 5'); Cristian Arango (C) (Rubio Rubin 28'), Jefferson Savarino
Subs Not Used: Damir Kreilach, Emeka Eneli, Kevon Lambert, Gavin Beavers
SKC - Erik Thommy 5 (direct free kick) 4'
SKC - Johnny Russell 6 (Logan Ndenbe 1, Erik Thommy 11) 29'
SKC - Alan Pulido 14 (unassisted) 77'
RSL - Brayan Vera 3 (unassisted) 81'
RSL - Jefferson Savarino 7 (unassisted) 89'
RSL - Justen Glad (red card; denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity) 3'
SKC - Nemanja Radoja (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 38'
RSL - Brayan Vera (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 58'
SKC - Tim Melia (yellow card; delaying a restart) 90+2'
RSL - Zac MacMath (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 90+7'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Ted Unkel
Assistant Referee: Jeremy Hanson
Assistant Referee: Nicholas Balcer
Fourth Official: Mark Allatin
VAR: Joe Dickerson
AVAR: Jason White