Down a man? Didn’t matter.
This Decision Day battle belonged to Sporting Kansas City.
Reduced to 10 men following a contentious Seth Sinovic red card, Sporting KC entered the final half-hour of Sunday’s regular season finale in a 1-1 deadlock with LAFC. The winner would lock up first place in the Western Conference and a bye to the conference semifinals, while the loser would fall into the Knockout Round.
With their backs against the wall, short-handed Sporting KC delivered in the 72nd minute. Homegrown forward Daniel Salloi came up clutch with a cool left-footed strike in front of the Cauldron, igniting wild celebrations at sun-drenched Children’s Mercy Park.
The goal ultimately sealed Sporting KC’s 2-1 victory and a No. 1 seed in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, giving the club its sixth first-place conference finish ever.
Salloi’s timely tally also proved historic on a number of levels. At the forefront, it was Sporting KC’s 72nd goal of the season in all competitions, breaking the long-held club record of 71 set during the inaugural 1996 campaign.
Salloi also tied a single-season team record with his sixth game-winning goal in MLS play and became the first player in club history to score a game-winner in three straight league matches.
Lastly, Sunday was just the second MLS home game ever in which Sporting KC scored a goal while playing down a man due to a red card. The only other time it happened was May 1, 2004, in a 2-0 win over Colorado.
SPORTING KC: MOST GOALS IN A SEASON
SPORTING KC: MOST GAME-WINNING GOALS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
Also of note: Sporting KC's Golden Boot race hung in the balance going into Decision Day, with Salloi and Johnny Russell tied on 10 league goals and 12 in all competitions. Sunday's winner gave the individual honor to the 22-year-old Hungarian, who surges into the playoffs with 20 combined goals (13) and assists (7) in all competitions.
Salloi’s historic strike is one of five AT&T MLS Goal of the Week nominees, alongside Roger Espinoza’s long-range sledgehammer that gave Sporting KC a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute. And while the goal scorers ended up stealing the headlines, two other Sporting KC players reached notable milestones as ever-present fixtures in the squad.
Midfielder Ilie Sanchez and defender Graham Zusi became the first field players in Sporting KC history to play every minute in a 34-game regular season. Ilie and Zusi finished the 2018 campaign with 3,060 minutes played, joining D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum and Philadelphia’s Auston Trusty as the only field players to accomplish the feat this year.
Veteran goalkeeper Tim Melia also played every minute of the 2018 regular season, matching a 34-game feat that Jimmy Nielsen accomplished in both 2012 and 2013.
As the top seed in the West, Sporting KC joins No. 2 seed Seattle Sounders FC with Knockout Round byes to the two-legged conference semifinals. Sporting KC will play away in the first leg this Sunday before hosting the decisive second leg on Sunday, Nov. 11. Tickets for that match—the first playoff tilt to be played at Children's Mercy Park since 2013 MLS Cup—are available via SeatGeek.com.
Sporting KC won't know their conference semifinal opponent until the conclusion of the single-elimination Knockout Round on Thursday night. Vermes' men will face the lowest-seeded team to advance from the Knockout Round, with No. 4 FC Dallas hosting No. 5 Portland Timbers on Wednesday and No. 3 LAFC hosting No. 6 Real Salt Lake on Thursday.