He started with a bang.
Now he’s ending with one, too.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Gutierrez took Major League Soccer by storm upon his arrival in early 2018. The Chilean racked up five goals in the club’s first five games, earned MLS Player of the Month honors in March, before suffering a hernia injury that sidelined him from May to July.
After settling back into Manager Peter Vermes’ starting lineup, Gutierrez helped Sporting KC end the regular season on a five-game unbeaten run. And now that the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs are in full swing, the midfield veteran appears to have reclaimed his devastating form at just the right time.
Gutierrez sparkled in Sunday’s 4-2 win over Real Salt Lake at riotous Children’s Mercy Park, a result that sealed Sporting KC’s 5-3 aggregate victory and set up a date with the Portland Timbers in the two-legged Western Conference Championship.
It took 14 minutes for Gutierrez to make a pronounced impact in Sunday’s game. The 28-year-old exploited space in the central channel and received a lovely through ball from Johnny Russell before squaring unselfishly to Diego Rubio, who hammered into an empty net to open the scoring.
Five minutes later, Gutierrez slipped an incisive pass into the path of Daniel Salloi for Sporting KC’s second goal. The moment proved historic as Gutierrez became the second Kansas City player ever to record two assists in a playoff game. Fellow teammate Graham Zusi was the first to accomplish the feat in 2011.
Real Salt Lake cut into the deficit on the hour mark, but Gutierrez’s delectable playmaking helped Sporting KC restore their two-goal cushion. His clever pass through to Rubio forced Nedum Onuoha to commit a foul inside the box, resulting in a penalty kick that Ilie Sanchez cheekily chipped down the middle to make it 3-1.
Over the course of both legs against RSL, Gutierrez was arguably the best player of the conference semifinal series. He assisted Rubio’s 60th-minute equalizer in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Nov. 4 as Sporting KC grinded out a valuable 1-1 road result.
Gutierrez now leads the league with three assists during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs—already more than the two he recorded in 20 regular season appearances. He is also tied for third with six chances created in the playoffs, including a game-high four on Sunday.
Sporting KC will now begin preparing for their conference championship showdown against Portland. Vermes’ side will visit the Timbers in the first leg on Nov. 25 before hosting the decisive second leg on Nov. 29. Tickets for the latter game at Children’s Mercy Park, slated for 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN, are now on sale at SeatGeek.com.