Recap: Sporting KC sinks LAFC 2-0 to climb to second place in Western Conference

Sporting Kansas City (11-6-6, 39 points) earned a momentous 2-0 victory over Los Angeles Football Club (10-7-6, 36 points) on Saturday night, using goals from Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez to vault into second place in the Western Conference.

Fernandes struck in the 17th minute and Ilie added a 66th-minute penalty kick as Sporting KC snapped LAFC’s 13-game home unbeaten run in all competitions and became the first visiting club to emerge victorious at the new Banc of California Stadium.

Saturday’s result — Sporting KC’s 350th win all-time — improved the team’s record in the state of California to 4-0-2 since the start of 2016 and gave Manager Peter Vermes’ men their second successive road triumph ahead of a two-game homestand that begins next Saturday when the side hosts the third-place Portland Timbers at Children’s Mercy Park.

In a game that featured two Western Conference contenders in their inaugural matchup, forward Krisztian Nemeth notably made his 2018 debut for Sporting KC as a second-half substitute. The Hungarian scored 16 goals during his first stint in Kansas City in 2015 and rejoined the club Monday following a trade with the New England Revolution.

Vermes brandished two changes to the Sporting KC lineup from last weekend’s win over the Houston Dynamo. Midfielder Roger Espinoza returned from a one-game suspension for caution accumulation, replacing 16-year-old Gianluca Busio, and Diego Rubio stepped in for Yohan Croizet at the front of a three-man attack. Elsewhere, captain Matt Besler set a club record with his 282nd start for Sporting KC in all competitions, while fellow defender Graham Zusi passed current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin for second place in team history — behind only Besler — with his 241st regular season appearance.

Goalkeeper Tim Melia ignited Sporting KC’s first attack in the sixth minute with a long outlet throw to Daniel Salloi, who combined with Rubio in the final third before Felipe Gutierrez cushioned a header into the path of Fernandes. The diminutive winger unleashed a low drive from distance and forced MLS debutant and LAFC gloveman Luis Lopez into his first save of the night. At the opposite end, defender Ike Opara did well to block Aaron Kovar’s strike from the top of the box in the 14th minute.

Fernandes fired Sporting KC ahead in the 17th minute on a play created by the industrious Rubio, who won possession near midfield and embarked on a barreling run through the central channel. The Chilean forward approached the top of the penalty area, drew a defender and spread the ball left. Fernandes settled the pass and finished with aplomb, striking low across Lopez into the far corner for his third MLS goal of the season.

LAFC midfielder Benny Feilhaber starred for Sporting KC from 2013-2017 and nearly put his former club to the sword in the 25th minute. The former U.S. international weaved past a pair of defenders on the right side of the box and pulled the ball back to an open Marco Urena, but the resulting shot sailed high from eight yards.

The visitors threatened once more before the halftime whistle, as Fernandes dashed skillfully goalward and drew a foul seven yards outside the box. Zusi stepped up to take the ensuing free kick and whipped a stinging right-footed effort onto the crossbar, with Lopez able to get the slightest of fingertips onto the shot.

Salloi almost doubled Sporting KC’s advantage seven minutes into the second half, curling marginally wide after Fernandes had streaked down the right side on the counter attack. LAFC responded with a pair of offensive substitutions, as Mexican international Carlos Vela and former Sporting KC winger Latif Blessing entered on the hour mark. Vela wasted no time getting involved, bending a shot inches beyond Melia’s right-hand post.

With LAFC committing numbers forward in search of an equalizer, Sporting KC sprang another counter in the 61st minute when Salloi received a pass from Espinoza, only to see his low shot blocked by defender Danilo Silva.

Shortly thereafter, Rubio teed up Salloi for a thunderous 18-yard blast that Lopez was unable to corral cleanly. Gutierrez bravely dove in attempt to nod the rebound into a gaping net, but was kicked in the side of the face by LAFC defender Dejan Jakovic. Referee Ismael Elfath awarded a penalty — and upheld his decision after Video Assistant Referee Tim Ford prompted a review of the play — and Ilie calmly tucked his spot kick into the side netting for his fourth goal of 2018.

LAFC was shut out on Saturday for just the third time all season, but not for lack of enterprise in the late stages. Melia made each of his five saves in the final 11 minutes plus stoppage time, the first of which resulting from Feilhaber’s 22-yard piledriver through traffic. LAFC went remarkably close to grabbing a goal back when a point-blank header from newly acquired forward Christian Ramirez caromed off the post.

Nemeth replaced Rubio with 76 minutes on the clock, but Sporting KC remained on the back foot late and survived another major scare in the 84th minute. Ramirez had raced in behind the defense with the ball at his feet, but Opara recovered to deflect the strike high into the air. The ball remained goal-bound, however, and Melia did brilliantly to retreat to the goal line and swat the ball wide.

Sporting KC will now look eagerly ahead to next Saturday’s home fixture with the Portland Timbers, set for 7:30 p.m. CT at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the match are available via SeatGeek.com as two of the top three teams in the Western Conference battle for playoff position on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.

2018 MLS Regular Season
Game 23 of 34

Banc of California Stadium | Los Angeles, California
Attendance: 22,000
Weather: 79 degrees and sunny

Score 1 2 F
Sporting Kansas City (11-6-6, 39 points) 1 1 2
Los Angeles Football Club (10-7-6, 36 points) 0 0 0

Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Gutierrez (Yohan Croizet 82); Gerso Fernandes (Johnny Russell 86), Diego Rubio (Krisztian Nemeth 76), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Eric Dick, Amer Didic, Jaylin Lindsey, Gianluca Busio

Los Angeles Football Club: Luis Lopez; Tristan Blackmon, Danilo Silva, Dejan Jakovic, Joao Moutinho; Benny Feilhaber (C), Lee Nguyen; Marco Urena (Christian Ramirez 69), Andre Horta, Aaron Kovar (Carlos Vela 58); Diego Rossi (Latif Blessing 58)
Subs Not Used: Tyler Miller, Laurent Ciman, Steven Beitashour, Calum Mallace

Scoring Summary:
SKC -- Gerso Fernandes 3 ( Diego Rubio 4) 17
SKC -- Ilie Sanchez 4 (penalty kick) 66

Misconduct Summary:
LAFC -- Lee Nguyen (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 36
LAFC -- Dejan Jakovic (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 63
SKC -- Roger Espinoza (yellow card; persistent infringement) 70
SKC -- Graham Zusi (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 72

Stat SKC LAFC
Shots 14 19
Shots on Goal 5 5
Saves 5 3
Fouls 18 16
Offsides 2 2
Corner Kicks 4 6

Referee: Ismail Elfath
Assistant Referee: Frank Anderson
Assistant Referee: Chris Wattam
Fourth Official: Kevin Stott
VAR: Tim Ford

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