"Beyond The Box Score" is a weekly series presented by Compass Minerals that takes a statistical dive into every Sporting match, bringing to light the intriguing numbers and factoids that don't appear in the typical box score. To visit the series archive, click here.
Minnesota United FC entered Sunday with one of the best attacking resumés in Major League Soccer. The Loons ranked second with 2.1 goals per game during the 2020 regular season campaign and visited Children's Mercy Park on the heels of back-to-back home wins that yielded seven goals combined.
Including results in an inspired run to the MLS is Back Tournament semifinals last month, head coach Adrian Heath's side had scored three or more goals five different times this year. Scoring by committee had been the name of Minnesota's game, as a league-best 10 different players had found the back of the net through 10 regular season fixtures.
On paper, it was a formidable test for a Sporting Kansas City outfit that hadn't kept a clean sheet since the MLS is Back group stage in July.
By the end of Sunday night, Sporting had passed the test with flying colors.
In a high-stakes battle for first place in the West, Sporting dominated from wire to wire and used an 80th-minute goal from Johnny Russell to emerge as deserved 1-0 winners. Although Minnesota kept the rampant hosts off the scoresheet until the dying embers, they seldom sniffed the goal themselves and finished without a shot on target for the first time in the club's four-year, 114-game MLS history.
"It first says a lot about our ball possession, and it’s not just possession to keep the ball; it was possession with a purpose tonight," Sporting Manager Peter Vermes said of his team's defensive accomplishment. "The guys were very good. They created a lot of chances so I think that’s one of the first reasons why. The second was that I thought that we were very organized defensively as a team. A lot of that has to do with we had really good positioning offensively, which put us in really good positions to try to win the ball back quickly or press the ball because of our good positioning."
Russell's clutch strike vaulted Sporting two points ahead of second-place Seattle Sounders FC and three ahead of Minnesota in the crowded Western Conference table. It also preserved Sporting's perfect home record against the Loons at Children's Mercy Park in all competitions.
SPORTING KC vs. MINNESOTA AT CHILDREN'S MERCY PARK
(ALL-TIME, ALL COMPETITIONS)
|06/03/2017||Regular Season||W 3-0||27-7|
|06/14/2017||U.S. Open Cup 4th Rd.||W 4-0||19-5|
|06/03/2018||Regular Season||W 4-1||25-7|
|08/25/2018||Regular Season||W 2-0||12-16|
|08/22/2019||Regular Season||W 1-0||22-12|
|09/13/2020||Regular Season||W 1-0||21-6|
In six home meetings with Minnesota, Sporting has gone 6-0-0, bagged 15 goals while conceding just one, and held an average shot advantage of 21-9. Minnesota's 0-5-0 regular season mark at Children's Mercy Park is the club's worst record at any opposing venue in MLS.
Sporting were vastly superior over the course of the game, but Manager Peter Vermes' men had to wait for their elusive breakthrough. After laying siege on the Minnesota goal by virtue of sustained possession, patient buildup and a few quick-fire counter-attacks, the hosts landed their knockout punch by going route one through one of the most prolific playmakers in team history.
Graham Zusi's delectable long ball over the top set Russell free for the go-ahead tally with 80 minutes on the clock. The scoring play, crafted by the midfielder-turned-winger-turned-defender's dime of a pass, gave Zusi his 81st career assist for Sporting in all competitions.
MOST MLS ASSISTS AMONG ACTIVE PLAYERS
(ALL-TIME, REGULAR SEASON)
|1||Sacha Kljestan||93||CHV, RBNY, ORL, LA|
Zusi has now tallied 66 assists in regular season play since joining Kansas City out of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. Of that total, his 29 game-winning assists are tied for eighth-most in league history and rank second among active players, just one behind Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman.
MOST CAREER GAME-WINNING ASSISTS
(ALL-TIME, MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|3||Brad Davis||40||RBNY, DAL, SJ, HOU, SKC|
|4||Carlos Valderrama||33||TB, MIA, COL|
|6||Kyle Beckerman *
|MIA, COL, RSL
|8||Graham Zusi *
* Active MLS player
"I just saw Johnny’s hand go up and saw him dart across the center of the field," Zusi said postgame, recalling the goal. "I knew that their line was a little bit spread because of the action that just had happened, so I just curled it right down the middle of the field and let Johnny’s momentum take him into the path of the ball. He did the rest. I just put him in a good spot and Johnny put it away for us."
Zusi's pinpoint connection with Russell also extended Sporting's scoring streak to 11 matches, the club's second-longest streak to start a regular season and one shy of tying the record. Sporting are the only team yet to be shut out during the 2020 regular season, with their 21 goals tied for third-best in MLS.
LONGEST SCORING STREAKS TO START A REGULAR SEASON
(SPORTING KC HISTORY)
"I think we fully deserved the three points," Zusi said. "We had opportunities in the first half to score two, three, maybe even four goals if we’re really clinical. But, credit to us to keep pushing and not get away from what we were doing well in the first half. We kept them under pressure for really the whole game and we were patient to get the goal."
The Western Conference leaders are back in action Saturday as fellow MLS originals FC Dallas (3-2-4, 13 points) venture to Children’s Mercy Park at 2:30 p.m. CT. The contest will air live nationally in Spanish on Univision and TUDN and regionally in English on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO. Additionally, listeners can catch the action on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.