Beyond the Box Score: Late game-winner puts exclamation point on relentless performance

Late game. Late drama.

With a tightly-contested Western Conference on watch and a nationally televised audience tuned into ESPN for MLS Heineken Rivalry Week, Sporting made it six points in six days with a 1-0 victory over Minnesota United FC on Thursday night at Children's Mercy Park.

Erik Hurtado's goal in the 88th minute and Tim Melia's five-save shutout lifted Sporting over the second-place Loons to move SKC within just three points of playoff position.

"It was the relentlessness of the guys in pursuit of that goal," Sporting Manager Peter Vermes told reporters postgame. "That’s why we scored in the 88th minute, because we weren’t going to be denied. We had too many chances."

On a night when Sporting unleashed a season-high 22 shots from nine different players, it was the final of 34 attempts between the two sides that broke the scoreless stalemate when Hurtado took a touch around Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone and buried the club's latest game-winning goal of the season. 

Where does it stack up among the club's all-time memorable moments of late match-winners at Children's Mercy Park? 

Sporting's Latest Game-Winning Goals at Children's Mercy Park

Date Opponent Player MIN
Aug. 15, 2015 Vancouver Paulo Nagamura 94'
April 5, 2015 Philadelphia Krisztian Nemeth 94'
July 3, 2016 Columbus Matt Besler 91'
March 18, 2017 San Jose Own Goal 89'
April 5, 2013 D.C. United Claudio Bieler 89'
Aug. 22, 2019 Minnesota Erik Hurtado 88'
June 23, 2018 Houston Khiry Shelton 88'
August 31, 2013 Colorado Graham Zusi 88'
March 25, 2012 Dallas Kei Kamara 88'
September 1, 2012 Toronto Oriol Rosell 87'

Hurtado's goal came thanks to a perfectly-placed pass from Johnny Russell, who picked up his seventh assist of the season -- second most of any forward in MLS this year behind MVP frontrunner Carlos Vela -- and fourth assist in three career matches against Minnesota.

"It’s a huge goal for us," Russell said inside a boisterous home locker room after the match. "Everyone knows how poor our season has been, but we’re never out of it. I think that we’ve shown in the last two games that we’re not ready to give up."

Russell now has 18 goals and 18 assists in MLS competition (including playoffs) since arriving at the start of the 2018 season, making him one of only four players to provide that level of balanced offensive production.

MLS players with 18 goals & 18 assists from 2018-19 (regular season + playoffs)

  1. Carlos Vela (LAFC) - 40 goals and 29 assists
  2. Diego Valeri (POR) - 20 goals and 29 assists
  3. Darwin Quintero (MIN) - 19 goals and 20 assists
  4. Johnny Russell (SKC) - 18 goals and 18 assists

Defensively, Sporting held Quintero - a 69th-minute substitute on Thursday - and the rest of Minnesota's formidable attack to a single shot on goal over the final 60 minutes of action as Melia now moves within one clean sheet of Jimmy Nielsen for the club's all-time record.

Most Regular Season Shutouts by an SKC Goalkeeper

  1. Jimmy Nielsen - 45
  2. Tim Melia - 44
  3. Tony Meola - 37
  4. Kevin Hartman - 22
  5. Bo Oshoniyi - 22

Thursday's win was also Sporting's 11th straight victory when keeping a clean sheet dating back more than a year to Aug. 4, 2018, matching the club's longest such streak set from Aug. 3, 2011 to June 6, 2012.

"I think we were very organized. We were aggressive in the right moments," Vermes said of the team's fifth clean sheet of the regular season. "We did ourselves proud in getting the points. We get a couple days off….and then we’ll have a really good solid week next week and get ready for our next game."

Sporting will look to continue the club's resurgence when the team concludes a three-game homestand next Saturday, Aug. 31 against the Houston Dynamo (9-13-4, 31 points), who are now led by interim head coach and former Kansas City midfielder Davy Arnaud. Tickets for SKCvHOU are available online at SeatGeek.com and the first 7,500 fans in attendance will receive Sporting KC branded sling grips for their mobile phones courtesy of match sponsor U.S. Bank.

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