Sporting Kansas City (12-8-13, 49 points) punched its ticket to the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs following a 0-0 draw against the Houston Dynamo (12-10-11, 47 points) on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
The result clinches a club-record seventh straight playoff appearance for Sporting KC — the third-longest active streak in Major League Soccer — but drops the side to fourth place in the Western Conference after the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC both claimed home victories on Sunday evening.
With Sporting KC three points behind first-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC and a point behind both Portland and Seattle, the stage is set for a dramatic Decision Day next Sunday when Manager Peter Vermes’ men wrap up the regular season at rivals Real Salt Lake (12-15-6, 42 points). The road test is one of 11 MLS matches that will kick off simultaneously at 3 p.m. CT.
The playoff-bound Dynamo, who salvaged a point Sunday behind a brilliant nine-save performance from goalkeeper Tyler Deric, sit two points behind Sporting KC in fifth place, while Real Salt Lake is one of three teams fighting for the sixth and final postseason spot in the West.
Vermes fielded a bolstered lineup from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in Houston, with U.S. internationals Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi accounting for three of the five changes. Cristian Lobato was deployed as a left back — joining Besler, Zusi and Ike Opara in defense — while Diego Rubio was reintroduced as the center forward in an attack that also featured Jimmy Medranda and Daniel Salloi.
Zusi wasted little time getting involved in his return to the lineup and nearly fired his club ahead in stunning fashion, unleashing a 35-yard piledriver that sizzled inches wide of the far left post in the 11th minute. Not long later, Salloi cut centrally from the left wing and forced the first stop from the busy Deric, whose nine saves set a new career-high.
Vermes’ men continued to gain steam and again went agonizingly close in the 34th minute, but Zusi’s wonderfully struck free kick bent over Houston’s four-man wall and caromed high off the top of the crossbar. Rubio won a header on the ensuing rebound that deflected off Houston defender Adolfo Machado and was pushed aside by the sprawling Deric for his best save of the night.
Rubio found the back of the net following a superb combination with Salloi on 36 minutes, but the offside flag was raised. Salloi asked further questions of the Dynamo backline shortly thereafter, but his shot from the top of the box was smothered by Deric.
The final chance of the first period saw Houston breathe another sigh of relief. Rubio’s cross from the left wing was headed errantly by Machado, requiring Deric to make a terrific reflex stop. Medranda latched onto the loose ball with an acrobatic scissor kick from the right side of the box, but Leonardo was stationed near the goal line to make a pivotal block that kept his side level heading into the break.
Houston head coach Wilmer Cabrera had made six lineup changes of his own, with the likes of Alex and Alberth Elis strengthening the attack, yet the Dynamo spent almost all of the second half weathering Sporting KC’s siege on goal. Deric denied Feilhaber twice near the hour-mark before thwarting Salloi, whose side volley off a Zusi cross was cleanly hit.
Sporting KC’s pressure intensified over the final quarter-hour, but the hosts were left exasperated again in the 76th minute when Rubio’s thunderous attempt from 18 yards rattled off the woodwork and out of play. The Chilean threatened again early in second-half stoppage time, but his header off Zusi’s corner kick sailed off target.
Another sold-out crowd at Children’s Mercy Park drew a collective gasp of disbelief in the 96th minute when Houston survived their largest scare of the night. Medranda’s low cross from the left side ricocheted off Machado to substitute Latif Blessing, whose effort from point-blank range was turned away by Deric’s outstretched left hand. The Dynamo were then able to clear the danger as referee Kevin Stott blew the full-time whistle.
2017 MLS Regular Season
Game 33 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 57 degrees and clear
|Sporting Kansas City (12-8-13, 49 points)||0||0||0|
|Houston Dynamo (12-10-11, 47 points)||0||0||0|
Sporting Kansas City: Andrew Dykstra; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Cristian Lobato (Latif Blessing 83); Roger Espinoza (C), Ilie, Benny Feilhaber; Jimmy Medranda, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Amer Didic, Seth Sinovic, Soni Mustivar, Kevin Oliveira, Gerso
Houston Dynamo: Tyler Deric; A.J. DeLaGarza, Adolfo Machado, Leonardo, DaMarcus Beasley; Ricardo Clark (C), Tomas Martinez (Vicente Sanchez 72), Juan Cabezas; Alberth Elis, Erick Torres (Mauro Manotas 90), Alex (Romell Quioto 66)
Subs Not Used: Joe Willis, Jalil Anibaba, Dylan Remick, Eric Alexander
|Shots on Goal||7||2|
HOU -- Erick Torres (caution; unsporting behavior) 67
HOU -- A.J. DeLaGarza (caution; unsporting behavior) 85
SKC -- Latif Blessing (caution; unsporting behavior) 94+
Referee: Kevin Stott
Assistant Referee: Kermit Quisenberry
Assistant Referee: Craig Lowry
Fourth Official: Ryan Cook
VAR: Hilario Grajeda