Sporting Kansas City II (13-7-5, 47 points) secured their spot in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs with a dominant 5-1 performance against LA Galaxy II (5-14-6, 25 points) at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Josh Coan contributed four goals, scoring the opener before assisting on three second half goals. Ethan Bryant bagged a brace, Cam Duke netted his third of the season and Pau Vidal capped off the SKC II goal-fest with his 11th.
With the win, Sporting KC II locks up a top-seven finish and will compete for the MLS NEXT Pro Cup following the final three matches of the season. There is still more to play for as the team can secure a top-four finish and at least one home playoff match.
Two-time MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Month Benny Feilhaber rolled out a starting XI featuring four first-team loanees and gave 16-year-old Trajan Wormington his pro debut late in the second half. John Pulskamp started in goal with Lucas Rosa, Jahon Rad, Robert Castellanos and Nati Clarke holding down the defense. Danny Flores started in the midfield with Duke and Bryant while Coan was joined by Sebastian Cruz and Alenis Vargas in the front three.
The offense nearly kicked off eight minutes into the match when Vargas forced Galaxy II keeper Simon Jillson into a kick save. The Honduran got on the end of a Rosa cross before sending a shot right into the path of the netminder who dropped down to make the save. On the other end, Pulskamp made his first save, shuffling to his right once before falling on the shot.
A chaotic sequence inside the box yielded SKC II their first of the evening in the 13th. After the ball pinged around the 18, Rosa found Coan free in the box. Coan gathered himself and ripped a shot off the keeper, off a defender and over the line for the opener. The next 10 minutes saw the match slow a tad as both teams settled in. Axel Picazo got in behind the back four in the 24th before sending a shot well wide of the target. Juan Calderon followed that up with a skied effort as LA tried to level the match.
Some excellent pressure from Duke resulted in the second goal for SKC II when the Homegrown turned LA over in the attacking third, broke into the box and beat Jillson with a clinical finish. A minute later Flores attempted to do the same, passing the ball to Bryant in a dangerous area in the process. The midfielder and future goal scorer saw his shot blocked and scooped up by the goalie.
Just two minutes later, both Bryant and Coan were incredibly unfortunate to not earn a third goal. Both players saw two shots get blocked in traffic with a third attempt from Coan somehow doinking off the crossbar and bouncing away from danger. LA went on the attack in the final five minutes of the half with both of their attacks ending in shots off target. Sporting KC II took the two-goal lead into the break.
Feilhaber made one change at halftime, swapping Rad for Chris Rindov. Calderon was brandished a yellow card for a poor challenge on Flores in the 50th and the offense woke up shortly thereafter, scoring three goals in 15 minutes. The set piece won by Flores resulted in a corner for the visitors which Coan dropped right onto Bryant's run. The 22-year-old expertly placed his header past the keeper and gave SKC II their third finish of the night.
Not five minutes later, Bryant bagged a brace, combining with Coan again. This time, the captain got on the end of a cross from Cruz and pinged a one-touch cutback to Bryant at the top of the 18 where he wasted no time placing a shot past the helpless keeper tracking back across his line.
In the 62nd, Vidal entered for Cruz and needed just three minutes to get onto the scorer's sheet for the 11th time this season. Coan collected his third assist of the match, finding Vidal with his back turned to the goal right at the edge of the area. The striker turned, slid and rolled an effort off Jillson's hands and into the goal.
A Castellanos foul in SKC II's box gave the hosts a bit of life when Adrian Gonzalez converted the penalty but it was too little too late at that point. In the 71st, MLS NEXT Rising Star of Matchday 24 Cielo Tschantret and SKC Academy product Ozzie Cisneros came on for Duke and Flores. Cisneros tried to set up Bryant's hat trick but it was not in the cards as the effort was pinged wide of the mark.
Wormington made his professional debut in the 78th, entering as the final SKC II sub and taking off Vargas. Vidal found the back of the net in the 81st, however, an offside flag disallowed the goal. Galaxy II had a pair of attacks late in the night go wanting with the first missing the target completely and the second stonewalled by a diving Pulskamp and cleared by Castellanos.
The final whistle came right at the 90th and SKC II cemented their spot in the postseason. With the win in Carson, Sporting KC II improves their winning streak to four as they look to close out the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro regular season on a hot streak. Coan's three assists in one match tie Kevin Olivera for the most in a single match and give him seven on the season, tied for third-most in the league.
After picking up consecutive road wins, Feilhaber, and SKC II will return home on Sunday, Sept. 10 to host Chicago Fire II at Children's Mercy Victory Field at Swope Soccer Village. Tickets are on sale at SeatGeek.com as the club looks to improve their place in the standings with two more home matches and one road test remaining in the campaign.
Sporting KC II
LA Galaxy II
Sporting Kansas City II: John Pulskamp; Lucas Rosa, Jahon Rad (Chris Rindov 46'), Robert Castellanos, Nati Clarke; Danny Flores (Cielo Tschantret 71'), Cam Duke (Ozzie Cisneros 71'), Ethan Bryant; Sebastian Cruz (Pau Vidal 62'), Alenis Vargas (Trajan Wormington 78'), Josh Coan
Subs Not Used: Ethan Bandre, Alex Cunningham, Enzo Mauriz
LA Galaxy II: Simon Jillson; Carson Kelin, Marcus Ferkranus, Ascel Essengue, Matteo Carbone (Elijah Amadin 59'); Adrian Gonzalez (Diego Rodrigues 89'), Adam Saldana, Juan Calderon (Nicolas Schelotto 59'), Axel Picazo (Sergio Villalpando 81'), Gino Vivi; Aaron Bibout (Julian Placias 59')
Subs Not Used: Aaron Cervantes, Emiliano Garcia, Allan Legaspi, Diego Lopez
SKC – Josh Coan 6 (Lucas Rosa 4) 13'
SKC – Cam Duke 3 (unassisted) 31'
SKC – Ethan Bryant 6 (Josh Coan 5) 51'
SKC – Ethan Bryant 7 (Josh Coan 6) 56'
SKC – Pau Vidal 11 (Josh Coan 7) 65'
LA – Adrian Gonzalez 2 (penalty kick) 68'
SKC – Danny Flores (yellow card; reckless offense) 5'
LA – Juan Calderon (yellow card; reckless offense) 50'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Mark Verso
Assistant Referee: Ryan Jung
Assistant Referee: Eric Wood
Fourth Official: Pavel Georgiev