Beyond The Box Score: Young guns impress on historic night for Sporting KC

It may have taken 806 games, but something never previously seen finally happened Thursday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Fellow 20-year-olds Latif Blessing, Erik Palmer-Brown and Daniel Salloi went the full 90 minutes in Sporting Kansas City’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union, marking the first time in club history that at least three players aged 20 or younger started in a competitive match.

Indeed, Sporting Kanas City’s starting XI against Philadelphia boasted a youthful dynamic unlike any other throughout the team’s 22-year existence. Homegrown duo Palmer-Brown and Salloi earned their first starts of 2017, while Blessing started his fourth straight MLS match and his eighth of the season.

With Roger Espinoza suspended and U.S. international trio Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi unavailable, Sporting Kansas City flexed its depth in a largely dominant performance that saw the Union steal a point with a second-half penalty kick — one of their two shots on target.

Palmer-Brown, making his first appearance for the club since October 2015, landed MLS Team of the Week honors for a stout showing in central defense. The U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team captain completed 61 passes — 16 more than any other player — while also racking up eight recoveries, six duels won, five clearances and two interceptions.

Salloi, five days removed from his first career MLS goal in a 1-1 tie against Portland, lacked no confidence in the attacking third. The cerebral forward finished with a game-high four shot attempts, including a swerving blast from long range that nearly beat Union goalkeeper John McCarthy and a cross-turned-shot that smacked off the crossbar in the first half.

Blessing, meanwhile, led all players with three shots on target. All three of his attempts tested McCarthy, who was forced to make sprawling saves to deny the Ghanaian on either side of halftime. Blessing also finished with eight touches in the opponent’s box, four more than any other player in Thursday’s contest.

“When those guys put in performances like that, they make a serious claim to be starters,” Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said postgame. “And that’s what you want on your team. They played very well. I’ll say it again, the movement they had off the ball was excellent. It caused a lot of problems for Philly. The only thing that was lacking was some finishing opportunities. We put some of those goals away, the game is totally different."

All in all, the result would leave a bitter taste in the mouths of players and supporters alike. Sporting Kansas City’s marked superiority manifested itself in 64 percent possession, 19 shots to Philadelphia’s eight and 14 corners to Philadelphia’s three. Those 14 corner kicks fell one shy of the all-time Sporting KC record in a regular season match.

"We should have had three tonight,” Vermes assessed. “This is a game where we should’ve had three points. We were the better team. Whatever statistics say, it doesn’t really matter. You can just watch the game and know that. We had a five-minute lapse in the second half where after we scored, we kind of took our foot off the gas.”

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