Sporting Kansas City stormed to a 3-0 victory over Minnesota United FC on Saturday afternoon at Children’s Mercy Park, vaulting back into first place in the Western Conference with goals from Ike Opara, Jimmy Medranda and Saad Abdul-Salaam.
The dominant performance saw Abdul-Salaam open his MLS scoring account, while Opara and Medranda both scored for the first time since July 2016 as Sporting Kansas City (7-4-4, 25 points) extended their club-record home unbeaten streak to 16 matches and avenged a 2-0 loss to expansion side Minnesota (4-8-2, 14 points) just four weeks earlier.
A national television audience on ESPN was witness to Sporting Kansas City’s sixth consecutive home win — and their fourth straight of the shutout variety. Manager Peter Vermes’ men have bagged 11 goals without reply in the friendly confines of Children’s Mercy Park and are now one victory shy of tying the longest regular season home winning streak in team history at seven games.
A retooled lineup included two changes from last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at the Colorado Rapids. Making his first start of 2017, Abdul-Salaam replaced Graham Zusi — who has joined the U.S. Men’s National Team ahead of World Cup qualifying in the Hexagonal — while Soony Saad entered the fold to lead a three-man attack that also featured Gerso and Latif Blessing. Medranda dropped into the midfield in place of the suspended Roger Espinoza, and Matt Besler returned from his week-long stint with the U.S. MNT to anchor the backline alongside Opara, who was notably making the 100th regular season appearance of his MLS career.
The hosts wasted no time asserting their supremacy, as Gerso and Blessing both fired marginally wide within the first four minutes. Minnesota’s precarious start was worsened in the seventh minute when influential midfielder Miguel Ibarra was forced to exit with a leg injury.
Blessing was on the receiving end of another chance in the 17th minute when Medranda’s cross from the right wing was headed high into the air. The diminutive Ghanaian adjusted himself well and performed an acrobatic bicycle kick from 12 yards that glanced narrowly off target. Gerso and Medranda combined down the right side only a minute later before the latter’s strike was saved by Minnesota goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Gerso was left to rue his luck in the 20th minute when his audacious side volley screamed inches above the crossbar after Medranda’s initial attempt was saved. The Designated Player then turned chance creator on the half-hour mark, teeing up a Medranda blast that was blocked inside the penalty area, before Saad was played through on goal only to be thwarted by Shuttleworth.
Sporting Kansas City would end the first half with 17 shot attempts, the most in a half by an MLS team this season, but their marked dominance wasn’t rewarded until the stroke of halftime. Opara took a pass from Besler and exploited a pocket of space in the attacking third before unleashing a 35-yard banger that flashed through Medranda’s legs on the edge of the box and nestled inside the near post, giving the defender his first MLS goal since July 10, 2016.
Action continued to be one-sided after intermission, although Tim Melia was asked to make his lone save in the 53rd minute on a well-struck effort from Christian Ramirez. Melia’s league-leading eighth clean sheet of the year tied his regular season career-high, matching the total he reached in both 2015 and 2016.
Bizarre circumstances led to Sporting Kansas City’s second goal in the 54th minute. Referee Jorge Gonzalez played an advantage when the streaking Gerso was hauled down just outside the 18, allowing Blessing to set up Saad for a shot atop the box. Saad’s wonderfully hit effort smacked off the crossbar and caromed off the left post before bouncing into the path of Medranda, who cushioned a header into the corner of the net for the second goal of his MLS career and his first of 2017.
Saad made way for Dom Dwyer in the 62nd minute, giving the Englishman his first appearance since May 17 after overcoming a knee injury. Fellow substitute Soni Mustivar tested Shuttleworth with a piledriving attempt in the 77th minute before the Minnesota gloveman parried Dwyer’s curling shot wide a minute later.
Abdul-Salaam added gloss to the victory with his maiden MLS goal in the 87th minute, slotting into the corner from point-blank range after Dwyer’s effort was blocked. Dwyer spurned a glorious chance to add a fourth in second-half stoppage time when he lifted Feilhaber’s delicious free kick over the bar from six yards out.
Sporting Kansas City will remain home next Saturday to host Eastern Conference outfit Montreal Impact at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets for the match are available via SeatGeek.com as Vermes’ side looks to continue its irresistible form at Children’s Mercy Park.
2017 MLS Regular Season
Game 15 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 20,361 (94th straight sellout)
Weather: 86 degrees and partly cloudy
|Sporting Kansas City (7-4-4, 25 points)||1||2||3|
|Minnesota United FC (4-8-2, 14 points)||0||0||0|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Jimmy Medranda (Soni Mustivar 67), Ilie, Benny Feilhaber; Gerso, Soony Saad (Dom Dwyer 62), Latif Blessing (Daniel Salloi 75)
Subs Not Used: Andrew Dykstra, Amer Didic, Igor Juliao, Cameron Porter
Minnesota United FC: Bobby Shuttleworth; Jerome Thiesson, Brent Kallman (C), Jermaine Taylor, Marc Burch (Justin Davis 63); Ibson, Collen Warner, Miguel Ibarra (Rasmus Schuller 8), Kevin Molino, Ismaila Jome (Bashkim Kadrii 55); Christian Ramirez
Subs Not Used: John Alvbage, Kevin Venegas, Joseph Greenspan, Collin Martin
|Shots on Goal||9||1|
MIN -- Ismaila Jome (caution; not retreating) 7
SKC -- Benny Feilhaber (caution; unsporting behavior) 12
MIN -- Collen Warner (caution; unsporting behavior) 23
MIN -- Bobby Shuttleworth (caution; unsporting behavior) 43
SKC -- Tim Melia (caution; unsporting behavior) 44
SKC -- Ike Opara 1 (Matt Besler 2) 47+
SKC -- Jimmy Medranda 1 (unassisted) 54
SKC -- Saad Abdul-Salaam 1 (unassisted) 87
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
Assistant Referee: Jeff Hosking
Assistant Referee: Danny Thornberry
Fourth Official: Allen Chapman