Sporting Kansas City II (13-9-5, 47 points) suffered a 3-2 road defeat at MNUFC2 (10-9-8, 43 points) at National Sports Center in Blaine, MN on Sunday evening in the team's final regular season road match of 2023. After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, an own goal halved the deficit before a third from the hosts increased the lead back to two. Ethan Bryant's eighth goal of the campaign gave Sporting KC II life in the final 15 minutes, but they were unable to find an equalizer.
Head coach Benny Feilhaber's starting XI featured six first-team loanees with a seventh coming in off the bench late in the contest. John Pulskamp was in net for a third straight match and made five saves on the evening. Lucas Rosa, Chris Rindov, Robert Voloder and Nati Clarke comprised the back four. An all Sporting Kansas City midfield began the match with Danny Flores playing the six and Felipe Hernandez and Ozzie Cisneros in front of him. Sebastian Cruz, Vitor Dias and Bakary Bagayoko started in the attacking third.
Despite dominating possession in the first half, SKC II found themselves in a two-goal hole at the break. The first attacking action came in the ninth when Rindov blasted a centering ball from the home side over the endline. The first corner was headed clear by Bagayoko and the second rolled all the way through the other side and was collected by SKC II.
Pulskamp used his hands for the first time in the 12th on a clipped-through ball that missed its mark and wound up in the goalkeeper's possession. A minute later Hernandez took the first of eight SKC II corners, serving the ball just over the top of Flores.
In the 15th minute of the match, Pulskamp made his first save, pawing away a shot sent in from the top of the area by Zaydan Bello. MNUFC2's third and fourth corners met similar fates to their first two as SKC II defended the goal well.
Minnesota nearly took the lead in the 21st when a deflected shot sailed toward goal but just drifted inches high. Rindov then slowed down a transition moment for Minnesota before Emmanuel Iwe found enough space to poke a shot on target. Pulskamp was wise to it and strongly punched the shot aside with two hands.
On the other end of the pitch, Dias laid the ball off to Clarke who sent it back into traffic. The defense converged on the line drive and blocked it away before it could get to Fred Emmings who appeared to lose the ball in the congestion. MNUFC2 took the lead in the 33rd when Juan Mosquera finished a chance from up close after being played in behind the defense. Iwe tried to double the lead but lifted his shot well over the target two minutes later.
Looking to level, Rosa found Cisneros wide open inside the Minnesota box and dropped a dime to the Homegrown. The first-teamer was able to get a shot on target but Emmings dropped his left leg down to keep the ball out of the net with a kick save.
Rindov made another defensive impact in the 41st, blocking a volleyed effort off a corner away with his head. The Loons' second team found their second goal right before halftime when Iwe capped off a counter with a finish in the top corner.
Halftime came and went and Feilhaber went to his bench to make one swap, bringing on Josh Coan for Cisneros. A minute into the second, Bagayoko cracked a centering pass into Emmings' path and the keeper snagged it. This tandem would meet up again in the 48th when Bagayoko camped under a high ball in the box. Emmings was late off his line and the SKC II forward won the ball with his head, getting clattered into by the keeper in the process. No foul was given dispite the keeper not making contact with the ball and Bagayoko was able to continue after receiving treatment on the sideline.
Voloder went for a run in the 54th before getting hammered down just outside the 18. In a similar spot to his MLS NEXT Pro Goal of Matchday 26 spot, Rosa stepped up and nearly made magic again, curling a shot over the wall and inches past the near post.
Minnesota put the ball back in play quickly and turned the goal kick into a one-on-one with Pulskamp at the other end. Standing his ground, the keeper remained close to his goal and deflected the rolled shot with an outstretched toe.
The deficit was trimmed in the 60th thanks to some help from the opposition defense. A Coan cross for Bagayoko bounced off a retreating Mikael Marques and past the helpless Emmings. With the match now tighter than it was a minute before, Feilhaber made two offensive-minded subs, bringing on Bryant and Pau Vidal.
Bryant nearly scored in the 65th when Rosa found the midfielder open in the box. The Texas natives shot was denied by a well-positioned Emmings who slid into the middle of his goal and caught the one-time blast. Rosa and Bryant would connect on a goal later in the match. Two minutes after the shot, Bryant was on the serving end of a cross that deflected off a defender, off Emmings and rolled around in the six. Coan was able to track down the loose ball, got forced to the endline and won SKC II a corner in the process.
Devin Padelford nearly gifted SKC II a second goal when he cleared a cross toward his goal, barely past the right-hand post and out for a corner. Like all of SKC II's eight corners, Minnesota stood their ground. A third MNUFC2 goal was scored in the 73rd when Romanshyn Jr. got one of his own, blasting a shot into the net from the top of the box.
The celebration was short-lived when SKC II found the back of the net in the 75th thanks to Bryant's eighth goal of the season and Rosa's fifth assist. The rightback and midfielder were perfectly in sync on this one with the former rolling a cross into space near the penalty spot and the latter running onto it and tucking it into the goal.
Vidal had a few opportunities go wanting including a brilliant run all the way from the defensive half into the attacking 18. The striker ran out of room and whistled his effort barely wide of the near post. Stephen Afrifa entered for Dias in the 78th in what would be the final SKC II sub of the match.
A glancing header from Vidal in the 83rd looped over the crossbar and a similar, almost identical sequence played out again in the 88th. Pulskamp made another save in the 90th snaring a curling effort right on his post and keeping the ball in play in the process.
Afrifa had the best chance in the four minutes of stoppage time somehow saved by Emmings. The rookie's volley from close sent the keeper diving at full extension where he parried the shot to the side. Minnesota would hold on and take all three points, improving their chances of making the postseason drastically.
Despite the loss tonight, SKC II still has a spot in the postseason locked up and can climb into third place with either a regulation win or shootout win and an Austin FC II loss on Decision Day.
Sporting KC II
Sporting Kansas City II: John Pulskamp; Lucas Rosa, Chris Rindov, Robert Voloder, Nati Clarke; Danny Flores, Felipe Hernandez, Ozzie Cisneros (Josh Coan 46'); Sebastian Cruz (Ethan Bryant 62'), Bakary Bagayoko (Pau Vidal 62'), Vitor Dias (Stephen Afrifa 78')
Subs Not Used: Ethan Bandre, Robert Castellanos, Enzo Mauriz, Jahon Rad, Cielo Tschantret
MNUFC2: Fred Emmings, Nick Richardson, Mikael Marques, Geremy Rodas, Devin Padelford; Kage Romanshyn Jr. (Rory O'Driscoll 83'), Zaydan Bello, Cedrik Gbo (Molik Khan 73'), Juan Mosquera, Loic Mesanvi (Diogo Pacheco 71'), Emmanuel Iwe
Subs Not Used: Alec Smir, Britton Fischer, Kameron Lacey, Will Pulisic, Alisa Randell, CC Uche
MIN – Juan Mosquera 3 (Kage Romanshyn Jr. 2) 33'
MIN – Emmanuel Iwe 8 (Zaydan Bello 2) 44'
SKC – Mikael Marques (Own Goal) 60'
MIN – Kage Romanshyn Jr. 1 (Diogo Pacheco 5) 73'
SKC – Ethan Bryant 8 (Lucas Rosa 5) 85'
MIN – Cedrik Gbo (yellow card; reckless offense) 54'
SKC – Chris Rindov (yellow card; reckless offense) 58'
MIN – Kage Romanshyn Jr. (yellow card; reckless offense) 81'
MIN – Molik Khan (yellow card; reckless offense) 90+5'
Shots on Goal
Referee: Adam Kilpatrick
Assistant Referee: John Krill
Assistant Referee: Patrick Casey
Fourth Official: Jared Kuehl