Sporting Kansas City moved into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference following a breathless 1-1 draw with Minnesota United FC on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Forward Diego Rubio fired Sporting Kansas City (12-7-12, 48 points) ahead on the stroke of halftime, but an 84th-minute header from Brent Kallman salvaged a point for the Loons (10-16-6, 36 points) and denied Manager Peter Vermes’ men what would have been a playoff-clinching victory.
Two changes adorned the Sporting KC lineup on Saturday as Saad Abdul-Salaam and Latif Blessing stepped in for Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber, respectively. Zusi, Feilhaber and captain Matt Besler were three of six players unavailable to Vermes because of national team commitments, having joined the United States for the conclusion of FIFA World Cup Qualifying. Left back Seth Sinovic, meanwhile, reached a major milestone with his 200th competitive appearance for his hometown club.
The season’s fourth meeting between Sporting KC and Minnesota began in pedestrian manner, as neither side was able to test the goalkeeper until the 34th minute when Miguel Ibarra’s long-range banger was tipped over the crossbar by Tim Melia. The visitors gained steam toward the end of the period, however, and Rubio nearly found the back of the net with a sweetly struck free kick that bent marginally high and wide of frame in the 42nd minute.
Two minutes later, Rubio’s delectable service to the far post was volleyed back across the face of goal by Jimmy Medranda, but Kallman’s crucial defensive header prevented the lurking Ike Opara from nodding into an open net.
Sporting KC’s strong end to the first half was justly rewarded with a breakthrough goal in the second minute of stoppage time. Ilie found a pocket of space in the central channel and carried the ball forward before a poke from Minnesota’s Abu Danladi directed the ball to Latif Blessing inside the penalty area. The diminutive Ghanaian promptly slipped a pass to the feet of Rubio, who hammered high into the back of the net from 12 yards for his sixth MLS goal of 2017 and his seventh strike in all competitions. Blessing recorded his first MLS assist on the play, giving his side momentum heading into the break.
Saturday’s narrative turned sour for Sporting KC in the 59th minute when Melia, an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year contender, was forced to exit the match with an apparent hamstring injury. The setback ended his uninterrupted 36-game stretch between the posts in 2017 across all competitions, prompting the Sporting KC debut of eighth-year MLS veteran Andrew Dykstra.
The final half-hour unfolded in gripping fashion as both sides created a handful of chances in a back-and-forth affair. A 63rd-minute header from Kallman almost restored parity before Abdul-Salaam spurned a glorious opportunity a minute later at the opposite end, running onto a superb pass from Ilie and dragging a shot wide of the far post.
Minnesota forward Christian Ramirez entered Saturday with a team-best 14 goals and very nearly bagged another with 10 minutes remaining, but his snap header off a cross from substitute Sam Nicholson caromed off the cross bar. The close call was an ominous foreshadowing for Sporting KC, who conceded an equalizer four minutes later.
Kallman had been an aerial threat throughout the night and finally bagged his second goal of the campaign in the 84th minute, latching onto a teasing delivery from Danladi to tie the match at 1-1. Sporting KC was slightly fortunate not to fall behind shortly thereafter, as a turnover in their defensive third led to a wayward shot from Ethan Finlay.
Another twist to the plot came in the 91st minute when Minnesota defender Joseph Greenspan was sent off for his second bookable offense. The resulting man advantage gave Sporting KC the impetus to dominate all seven minutes of second-half stoppage time, going agonizingly close to finding the winner on multiple occasions.
Minnesota goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth produced two huge saves in as many minutes, sprawling low to corral a driven free kick from Rubio before making a jaw-dropping reflex stop to thwart a Roger Espinoza header off Ilie’s corner kick. In the 94th minute, a low cross from Medranda somehow eluded several bodies in a swarmed six-yard area, then Blessing dragged a shot inches wide with 97 minutes on the clock — seconds before referee Jose Carlos Rivero whistled for full time.
An opportunity to draw level on 51 points with Western Conference leaders Vancouver Whitecaps FC comes Wednesday when Sporting Kansas City travels to face rivals Houston Dynamo (11-10-10, 43 points) for a 7 p.m. CT kickoff at BBVA Compass Stadium, airing live on FOX Sports Kansas City.
2017 MLS Regular Season
Game 31 of 34
TCF Bank Stadium | Minneapolis, Minnesota
Weather: 58 degrees and clear
|Sporting Kansas City (12-7-12, 48 points)||1||0||1|
|Minnesota United FC (10-16-6, 36 points)||0||1||1|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia (Andrew Dykstra 59); Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza (C), Ilie, Jimmy Medranda; Gerso, Diego Rubio, Latif Blessing
Subs Not Used: Amer Didic, Tyler Pasher, Cristian Lobato, Soni Mustivar, Kharlton Belmar, Daniel Salloi
Minnesota United FC: Bobby Shuttleworth; Jerome Thiesson, Joseph Greenspan, Brent Kallman, Marc Burch (Sam Nicholson 79); Ethan Finlay, Collin Martin (Collen Warner 79), Ibson, Miguel Ibarra (Brandon Allen 81); Christian Ramirez, Abu Danladi
Subs Not Used: Patrick McLain, Kevin Venegas, Ismaila Jome, Jose Leiton
|Shots on Goal||4||4|
MIN -- Jerome Thiesson (caution; unsporting behavior) 41
SKC -- Seth Sinovic (caution; unsporting behavior) 70
SKC -- Andrew Dykstra (caution; time wasting) 72
MIN -- Joseph Greenspan (caution; unsporting behavior) 86
MIN -- Joseph Greenspan (second caution, ejection; unsporting behavior) 91
SKC -- Diego Rubio 6 (Latif Blessing 1) 47+
MIN -- Brent Kallman 2 (Abu Danladi 3) 84
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Assistant Referee: Eric Boria
Assistant Referee: Felisha Mariscal
Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica
VAR: Kevin Terry, Jr.