Sporting Kansas City roared to the top of the Western Conference with a commanding 4-1 victory over Minnesota United FC on Sunday night at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park.
Daniel Salloi’s sublime opener set the stage for a dominant win that included further goals from Cristian Lobato, Diego Rubio and 19-year-old Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, who became the second-youngest Kansas City player to score in an MLS regular season match. The result lifts Sporting KC (8-2-4, 28 points) two points clear of FC Dallas at the top of the West, while Minnesota (5-8-1, 16 points) remains in ninth place after suffering a third defeat in as many visits to Children’s Mercy Park dating back to last season.
Sunday marked the first time in Sporting KC history that two Homegrown Players — Salloi and Kuzain — scored in the same match. The evening also saw captain Matt Besler reach a momentous milestone, logging his 240th regular season appearance to tie Davy Arnaud for first place on Sporting KC’s all-time charts.
A combination of injury and international duty prompted Manager Peter Vermes to make two attacking changes to his starting 11 from last Sunday’s scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC. Khiry Shelton was sidelined with a thigh ailment and Johnny Russell missed out after featuring for the Scotland Men’s National Team on Saturday night in Mexico City. In their absence, Salloi stepped into the center forward role while Lobato and Gerso Fernandes — earning his first start of 2018 — entered the lineup as wingers.
A national television audience on FS1 was treated to a breathless first half that produced four goals from both sides and 18 shot attempts from the rampant hosts. Fernandes created the game’s first chance from scratch in the fourth minute, nutmegging Tyrone Mears along the left endline and pulling the trigger from a tight angle, forcing Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth into a reflex save. Lobato teed up Yohan Croizet four minutes later, but the Frenchman’s near-post effort was smothered by Shuttleworth.
Sporting KC’s early superiority was rewarded with nine minutes on the clock, courtesy of Salloi’s magisterial strike from distance. A wave of pressure created a Minnesota turnover in Sporting KC’s attacking third, allowing Croizet to head the ball into the path of Salloi 25 yards from goal. The forward touched the ball onto his patented right boot and curled a superb effort into the far right corner of the net for his fourth goal of the campaign.
The Loons were second-best for most of the night but responded positively after falling behind. Christian Ramirez’s bending effort caromed off the crossbar before the visitors restored parity in the 12th minute on a venomous, 30-yard piledriver from Mears that stunned the Children’s Mercy Park crowd.
Another significant plot twist unfolded in the 18th minute when Croizet was forced to exit due to injury, paving the way for Kuzain to make his second MLS appearance after debuting for the club just seven days earlier.
Minnesota suffered a hammer-blow late in the first half, but not before nearly taking the lead on two separate occasions. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia did wonderfully to thwart Darwin Quintero on a deflected free kick in the 25th minute, sprawling low to his right after the Colombian’s low drive was redirected by Seth Sinovic’s outstretched foot. Minnesota midfielder Rasmus Schuller lofted a clever diagonal ball to Ramirez two minutes later, but his shot from the right side of the box rattled the outside of the post and bounced out of play.
Sporting KC were in the ascendancy over the final hour, reclaiming a one-goal advantage in the 35th minute. Graham Zusi scooted along the right endline and although his cutback pass was repelled, the ball rolled kindly to Kuzain, who pulled the trigger near the penalty spot. His shot took a slight deflection through traffic and nestled low into the corner of the net to ignite joyous celebrations across the stadium. Kuzain’s goal made him the second-youngest player to score in an MLS match as 19 years and 262 days.
With their tails up, Sporting KC struck again on 38 minutes when Roger Espinoza slipped a delightful through ball to Lobato inside the penalty area. Shuttleworth got a touch on the Spaniard’s close-range toe-poke, but the ball squirted under the keeper’s right arm and trickled over the goal line to give Lobato his second tally of the season. Espinoza, meanwhile, reached an MLS career-high with his sixth assist of 2018.
Ilie almost added a fourth in stunning fashion just before the break, but his 32-yard missile shook the frame of the goal after Shuttleworth was well-beaten.
A straightforward second half offered its first plot twist on the hour-mark. Sinovic suffered an apparent leg injury and was forced to make way for 18-year-old homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey, who earned his MLS and Sporting KC debut. Three minutes later, proceedings went from bad to worse for Minnesota when Maximiniano, a halftime substitute, received his second yellow card for a bad challenge on Ilie and was ejected from the match.
Fernandes continued to ask questions of the Minnesota defense, nearly connecting on a low cross from Lobato before seeing his own delivery headed narrowly wide by Ike Opara. The fourth goal would come, however, off the left foot of Rubio with nine minutes remaining. The Chilean, who had entered the action just three minutes earlier, settled a pass from Fernandes and fired low across Shuttleworth to give Sporting KC a 4-1 lead and mark the first time during the Opta era (2010-present) that two Sporting KC substitutes scored in the same match.
With Sunday’s contest in the rearview mirror, Sporting KC will now prepare for pivotal two-game road trip that begins Wednesday with a trip to rivals Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round. Vermes’ men enter the tournament as reigning Open Cup champions and will begin their title defense in the round of 32, with kickoff set for 9 p.m. CT at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The club will then travel further west for the resumption of the MLS regular season, locking horns with the Portland Timbers at 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Providence Park in Portland.
2018 MLS Regular Season
Game 14 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 77 degrees and sunny
|Sporting Kansas City (8-2-4, 28 points)||3||1||4|
|Minnesota United FC (5-8-1, 16 points)||1||0||1|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic (Jaylin Lindsey 60); Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Yohan Croizet (Kuzain 18); Cristian Lobato (Diego Rubio 78), Daniel Salloi, Gerso Fernandes
Subs Not Used: Eric Dick, Emiliano Amor, Gianluca Busio, Kharlton Belmar
Minnesota United FC: Bobby Shuttleworth; Tyrone Mears, Michael Boxall (C), Brent Kallman, Eric Miller; Rasmus Schuller, Ibson, Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero (Frantz Pangop 75), Alexi Gomez (Maximiniano 46); Christian Ramirez (Abu Danladi 68)
Subs Not Used: Matt Lampson, Wyatt Omsberg, Carter Manley, Collin Martin
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 4 (Yohan Croizet 2) 9
MIN -- Tyrone Mears 1 (Rasmus Schuller 2) 12
SKC -- Kuzain 1 (unassisted) 35
SKC -- Cristian Lobato 2 (Roger Espinoza 6) 38
SKC -- Diego Rubio 2 (Gerso Fernandes 2) 81
MIN -- Maximiniano (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 48
MIN -- Maximiniano (red card - second yellow; unsporting behavior) 63
MIN -- Miguel Ibarra (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 77
|Shots on Goal||8||2|
Referee: Drew Fischer
Assistant Referee: Gianni Facchini
Assistant Referee: Adam Garner
Fourth Official: Alejandro Mariscal
VAR: Edvin Jurisevic