Sporting Kansas City’s 2018 season came to a heartbreaking end on Thursday in a 3-2 defeat to the Portland Timbers in the decisive second leg of the Western Conference Championship.
An electric sellout crowd at Children’s Mercy Park saw Sporting KC take a halftime lead on Daniel Salloi’s 20th-minute strike, but the Timbers responded after the break as Sebastian Blanco equalized with a long-range stunner before Diego Valeri nodded Portland in front near the hour mark.
Needing two goals in order to win the series, Sporting KC grabbed one back in the 81st minute courtesy of Gerso Fernandes to level the score at 2-2. The hosts applied ceaseless pressure in the late stages in a bid to find the winner, as Portland would have advanced on the away goals tiebreaker if the match had ended all square, but any hopes of a comeback were extinguished when Valeri scored on a counter attack in the ninth minute of second-half stoppage time.
The loss, which came four days after the sides scrapped to a scoreless first-leg draw in Portland, draws the curtains on a record-breaking year for Sporting KC, who set all-time club records for goals, assists and shots while amassing 18 regular-season wins and 62 points, both the second-most in team history. The Timbers, meanwhile, advance to MLS Cup 2018 against Atlanta United FC on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Manager Peter Vermes made just one change to the Sporting KC lineup from Sunday’s first leg, with forward Diego Rubio leading a three-pronged attack in place of Khiry Shelton. The Chilean nearly nodded his team ahead in the 16th minute, rising to steer a header on frame off Felipe Gutierrez’s corner kick, but Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made the save.
Sporting KC’s early dominance was rewarded in the 20th minute. Johnny Russell embarked on a signature solo run down the right endline before the ball fell to Rubio, whose low cross was stabbed home at the far post by Salloi. The goal was his seventh in as many MLS appearances and brought his team-leading total to 16 goals on the season across all competitions.
Salloi thought he had scored again just four minutes later, but his looping header that nestled into the corner of the net was disallowed when Sporting KC defender Ike Opara was ruled to have obstructed Attinella in an offside position.
Portland’s lone chance of the first half came with 40 minutes on the clock. Andy Polo did well to create separation inside the box and fired a shot that deflected narrowly wide into the side netting. Sporting KC would then threaten twice before intermission: Salloi unleashed a booming volley that dipped marginally over the crossbar, then Rubio was deemed offside after smashing a 15-yard shot past Attinella.
The Timbers improved upon the restart and tied the game in the 52nd minute on a wondergoal from Blanco. The Argentine was afforded space from more than 30 yards and picked out the top right corner past the outstretched reach of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia. Nine minutes later, Portland surged ahead when Jeremy Ebobisse’s teasing ball over the top was punched away by Melia but only as far as Valeri, whose cushioned header found the back of the net.
Fernandes entered as a 65th-minute substitute and made an instant impact, forcing Attinella into a save with a low shot from a tight angle. Gutierrez then went agonizingly close to restoring parity on two occasions, heading a foot over the bar off a Russell free kick prior to seeing his left-footed effort kick-saved by Attinela in a one-on-one breakaway.
Vermes’ men equalized in the 81st minute on a wonderfully worked team goal. Roger Espinoza spread the ball wide to Graham Zusi, who exploited space down the right wing and flashed a low ball across the penalty area. Substitute Krisztian Nemeth’s deft dummy allowed the ball to reach Fernandes, who slotted into the corner to tie the match.
With Portland still holding the advantage on away goals, Sporting KC needed to score again to secure an aggregate victory. The hosts laid siege on Portland’s goal deep into stoppage time, only for the Timbers to seal progression in the 99th minute on Valeri’s breakaway finish.
The 2019 campaign will see Sporting KC go to battle in three separate competitions: the MLS regular season, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, North America’s premier club competition slated to begin in February.
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs
Western Conference Championship (Leg 2 of 2)
Portland wins series 3-2 on aggregate
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 35 degrees and clear
|Sporting KC (1-1-2, No. 1 seed)||1||1||2|
|Portland Timbers (3-1-1, No. 5 seed)||0||3||3|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez; Johnny Russell (Yohan Croizet 90), Diego Rubio (Krisztian Nemeth 70), Daniel Salloi (Gerso Fernandes 65)
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Andreu Fontas, Gianluca Busio, Khiry Shelton
Portland Timbers: Jeff Attinella; Zarek Valentin (Alvas Powell 80), Bill Tuiloma, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Diego Chara, David Guzman (Lawrence Olum 84); Andy Polo (Dairon Asprilla 72), Diego Valeri (C), Sebastian Blanco; Jeremy Ebobisse
Subs Not Used: Steve Clark, Julio Cascante, Lawrence Olum, Alvas Powell, Andres Flores, Lucas Melano
SKC -- Daniel Salloi 3 (Diego Rubio 1) 20
POR -- Sebastian Blanco 3 (Jorge Villafana 1) 52
POR -- Diego Valeri 3 (unassisted) 61
SKC -- Gerso Fernandes 1 (unassisted) 81
POR -- Diego Valeri 4 (Diego Chara 1) 99+
POR -- Zarek Valentin (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 17
POR -- David Guzman (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 50+
SKC -- Diego Rubio (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 47
POR -- Diego Chara (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 77
POR -- Jorge Villafana (yellow card; time wasting) 96+
POR -- Dairon Asprilla (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 97+
|Shots on Goal||8||3|
Referee: Mark Geiger
Assistant Referee: Joe Fletcher
Assistant Referee: Matthew Nelson
Fourth Official: Baldomero Toledo
VAR: Dave Gantar
AVAR: Logan Brown