Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes struck in the second half as Sporting Kansas City (7-2-2, 23 points) earned a momentous 2-0 victory over Atlanta United FC (7-2-1, 22 points) on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to leapfrog their opponents for first place in the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings.
Salloi opened the scoring with a spectacular curling effort in the 67th minute, tallying his second goal in as many games, before Fernandes came off the bench to seal the result against an Atlanta side that was reduced to 10 men following a first-half red card to goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia delivered a sterling performance between the posts, finishing with eight saves as his team became the first in MLS history to shut out Atlanta United FC in a regular season away match. The Five Stripes had scored in 22 consecutive home games and notched at least two goals in each of their first 13 regular season fixtures at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but a resolute defensive display gave Sporting KC its fifth clean sheet in seven games and its third road triumph of 2018.
Manager Peter Vermes, who on Monday signed a contract extension with Sporting KC through 2023, made one change to his starting lineup from Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. Midfielder Yohan Croizet entered the fray in place of left back Cristian Lobato, with the versatile Jimmy Medranda dropping into defense for his seventh straight start. Two players reached notable milestones, as midfielder Ilie — who assisted both goals Wednesday night — played his 50th match for the club in all competitions, while Melia logged his 100th career MLS appearance (including playoffs).
The visitors weathered a turbulent storm in the early stages as Atlanta nearly took the lead on multiple occasions. Josef Martinez entered the night as the league’s top scorer with seven goals, and the forward thought he had bagged his eighth after slotting low into the corner past Melia in the sixth minute. Referee Mark Geiger initially awarded the goal, but a review of the play prompted by Video Assistant Referee Edvin Jurisevic showed Martinez to be in an offside position when he received Ezequiel Barco’s deflected through ball.
Melia was then forced to make three saves in as many minutes, first sprawling low to smother a Leandro Gonzalez Pirez header off Miguel Almiron’s corner kick. Former Sporting KC defender Sal Zizzo created Atlanta’s next chance with a pinpoint cross to the near post, but Melia corralled Martinez’s close-range flick-on effort. The keeper’s best stop during the frantic interval came in the 15th minute when he fisted Hector Villalba’s venomous volley over the bar.
A breathless first half saw Sporting KC gradually gain a foothold before the raucous crowd of 44,696 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium — the fourth-largest attendance for a regular season match in Kansas City history. A defensive header from Gonzalez Pirez steered Graham Zusi’s teasing free kick marginally wide of goal, then Ilie was afforded space to send a thunderous long-range blast a yard over the crossbar. Sporting KC threatened again in the 33rd minute as Roger Espinoza’s brilliant cross from the right wing was nodded off target by Khiry Shelton.
The game’s complexion changed drastically in the 34th minute when Atlanta’s keeper was sent off. Yohan Croizet slipped a delightful through ball in behind the Five Stripes backline to Shelton, who was chopped to the turf by Guzan just outside the penalty area. Geiger showed no hesitation in brandishing a red card for the denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity, giving Sporting KC a numerical advantage for the rest of the night. Guzan was replaced by rookie debutant and League Pool goalkeeper Paul Christensen, who was rooted to the spot when Zusi smacked the ensuing free kick inches wide of the post.
The second stanza unfolded in equally compelling fashion, bursting to life in the 50th minute when Christensen raced off his line to thwart Johnny Russell after the Scot had run onto a sublime diagonal pass from Medranda. Ten minutes later, Espinoza cut the ball onto his patented left boot at the top of the box and flashed a shot less than a yard wide of frame.
Sporting KC’s 21-year-old homegrown forward provided the match-winner halfway through the second period. Settling a pass from Ilie, Salloi dribbled centrally from the left edge of the box and curled a fantastic strike just inside the far corner for his third goal of the season and the sixth of his MLS career.
The hosts were stretched thin in their search for an equalizer, allowing Sporting KC to break on the counter in the 75th minute. Salloi skipped down the left flank and whipped a low cross into the penalty area for Espinoza, who hammered high from seven yards.
Melia was heroic in the dying embers of the match, producing near-identical saves to deny free kick specialist Kevin Kratz in the 83rd and 86th minutes. Kratz bent a pair of free kick attempts over the Sporting KC wall, but Melia dove right on both occasions to parry the ball away and keep Atlanta off the scoresheet.
Sporting KC effectively sealed all three points with three minutes left. Ilie floated a lovely long ball over the top to Fernandes, who had entered the fray just five minutes earlier as a substitute. The winger dashed into the box, calmly rounded Christensen and finished with aplomb for his first goal of the campaign.
Atlanta was already condemned to defeat deep in second-half stoppage time, but it didn’t prevent Melia from making an astounding save on one of the final plays of the game. Almiron’s 20-yard attempt was destined for the upper corner, but the in-form gloveman leapt at full extension to touch the ball onto the crossbar and compound the home side’s frustration.
With a third of the MLS regular season in the books, Sporting KC won’t return to action until Sunday, May 20, when the side visits Minnesota United FC at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.
2018 MLS Regular Season
Game 11 of 34
Mercedes-Benz Stadium | Atlanta, Georgia
Weather: 70 degrees and indoors
|Sporting Kansas City (7-2-2, 23 points)||0||2||2|
|Atlanta United FC (7-2-1, 22 points)||0||0||0|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Jimmy Medranda; Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Yohan Croizet (Cristian Lobato 71); Johnny Russell (Gerso Fernandes 82), Khiry Shelton (Diego Rubio 91+), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Eric Dick, Emiliano Amor, Jaylin Lindsey, Seth Sinovic
Atlanta United FC: Brad Guzan; Sal Zizzo, Michael Parkhurst, Leando Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza; Darlington Nagbe, Jeff Larentowicz (Kevin Kratz 76), Hector Villalba (Paul Christensen 36), Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco; Josef Martinez (Romario Williams 76)
Subs Not Used: Miles Robinson, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, Julian Gressel, Brandon Vazquez
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 3 (Ilie 2) 67
SKC -- Gerso Fernandes 1 (Ilie 3) 87
ATL -- Jeff Larentowicz (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 31
ATL -- Brad Guzan (yellow card; denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity) 13
SKC -- Matt Besler (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 89
|Shots on Goal||3||8|
Referee: Mark Geiger
Assistant Referee: Joe Fletcher
Assistant Referee: Frank Anderson
Fourth Official: Jose Carlos Rivero
VAR: Edvin Jurisevic