Sporting Kansas City‘s 2018 season came to an abrupt end on Thursday night in a devastating season-ending 3-2 loss against the Portland Timbers in leg two of the Western Conference Final at Children’s Mercy Park.
In front of a sold-out, energetic crowd Sporting KC delivered a solid performance filled with chances, goals and controversial calls.
Sporting KC kicked off the match maintaining strong possession that later helped Daniel Salloi earn the chance to claim an early lead for the home side in the 20th minute.
However, things turned sour quickly after the restart when Sebastian Blanco blasted a strike into the top corner, to level the match in the 52nd. Blanco’s strike would stun fans and even fellow captainDiego Valeri – who gained a surge of energy to double the Timbers lead nine minutes later.
Now trailing 2-1, the home side had to rally quick. In the 81st minute, Sporting KC would get a glimpse of hope as Gerso Fernandes scored the equalizer after a brilliant combination from the team. On the cusp, of potentially scoring another goal to advance, the match went into sudden death for the final remainder of the half.
Despite all effort, Sporting KC’s offseason would begin deep into a grueling nine-minute stoppage time after Valeri’s breakaway finish – claiming the Western Conference Champion title and stamping the Timber’s ticket to the MLS Cup.
As fans thanked one another for their dedication, several Sporting KC players took to Twitter to express their disappointment and gratitude:
It's hard to find the words tonight. Work all season for nothing at all. It is a painful feeling. A big thank you to our supporters for the unconditional support all season long. You stay the best for us. A big thank you to my teammates, staff and all the people in the club…
Even Daniel Salloi appeared to have hinted to be returning to the Blue Hell next season following speculation of transfer rumors for Europe:
Such an amazing season and it deserved a better ending. We’ll learn from our mistakes and get back even stronger. Thanks for your unbelievable support, I love everything about this team and proud to wear this jersey 💙 Happy Holidays my friends! ⚽️ #DS20pic.twitter.com/0m7x6l9CoC
Not even 24 hours after the loss, the club dug a little deeper into fans’ wounds by announcing which players have had contract options declined: forward Kharlton Belmar, midfielder Cristian Lobato, defenders Amer Didic, Brad Evans and Colton Storm.
At the end of the day, the contract options didn’t come as a shock to fans, since most of the core group (Matt Belser, Graham Zusi, Seth Sinovic, Roger Espinoza, and Ilie Sanchez) had recently re-signed. And with the addition of long-time veterans like goalkeeper Tim Melia, next season is shaping up to be a promising one.
From the moment the whistle blew, this icy match didn’t disappoint when it came to drama.
Following a 1-1 draw on the road, Sporting Kansas City returns home to stamp their ticket to the Western Conference Finals in a 4-2 (5-3 on aggregate) win over Real Salt Lake at Children’s Mercy Park.
Felipe Gutierrez arguably had the best game of his career having recorded two assists – becoming the first player in Sporting KC postseason history to record two assists in the first half. As well, recording a total of three assists in the 2018 playoffs campaign, tied for a club postseason record.
Sporting KC was up 2-0 by the 20th minute after two brilliant goals by Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi. However, things started to slow as the home side’s defense became noticeable lazy – giving RSL an opportunity to pull one back shortly after the restart.
The tide would shift again in the 67th minute after RSL defender Nedum Onuoha received a caution for a tackle on Gutierrez – Referee Jose Carlos Rivero awarded Sporting KC a penalty, which Ilie Sanchez successfully converted with a shot down the middle, putting SKC back ahead 3-1.
Moments later, RSL answered the penalty when Damir Kreilach sends a clear header off of a corner shot from Joao Plata past Tim Melia pulling one back for RSL 3-2.
The remainder of the match saw RSL putting all bodies forward continuously challenging Melia and the backline – in an attempt to level the match. Fortunately, Sporting KC was able to dismiss all opportunities the visitors created in front of a sold-out crowd.
Every heart in the stadium filled with anxiety when the crowd witnessed the ball falling to Nick Besler, the younger brother of Sporting KC captain Matt Besler, off a corner kick in the 83rd minute but his chance fizzled past the goal, landing in the side netting. Seconds later, nerves rattled again, when Jefferson Savoring won possession on a loose ball in the penalty area and sent a side-footer in close range just wide of Melia’s right-hand post.
After a brutal seven minutes of stoppage time, Salloi slammed home the silencer in the 96th minute securing the home side’s spot in the Western Conference Final. As well, handing the team their first playoff win since 2013.
Sporting Kansas City will kick off their playoffs run Sunday when the club visits Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Sporting KC is currently on a three-game winning streak after earning a first-round bye in a dramatic win over the Los Angeles Football Club this past Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Without an opponent in mind, Sporting KC approached training this past week with similar compounds as they have during the season:
“We’ve played every opponent, so we know the general sense. There won’t be many surprises when we see them again. Same preparations. Same week. Same attitudes. Just a little bit harder now because its the playoffs,” said Goalkeeper Eric Dick.
Forward Khiry Shelton added, “It’s been the same. The same approach we’ve taken every week. We can’t focus too much on our opponent – whoever it may be. We need to focus on ourselves and the task at hand. [Then] come out and play our game and get a result.”
On Thursday evening, it looked as if Sporting KC was set to travel to Portland following the Timber’s 2-1 victory over FC Dallas. But in a weird turn of events, the first team will be visiting Salt Lake City instead – after RSL stunned the league with a 3-2 victory over LAFC at Banc of California Stadium.
Sporting KC has a long history with Real Salt Lake dating back to 2013 when the two sides met for the 2013 MLS Cup – in which Sporting KC hosted and won in a 10-round penalty shootout. This weekend will mark the fourth and fifth times this season the clubs will meet.
The club’s current record with RSL for the 2018 season is 1-1-1 with Children’s Mercy Park seeing the win and the tie. Including, a 1-6-5 record against RSL in the regular season since 2014, as well a 0-5-2 mark at Rio Tinto Stadium. So it’s not surprising that RSL would not be a favorable team for Sporting KC to face. But not all hope is lost. Sporting KC eliminated RSL from the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 2-0 fourth-round win on June 6.
Aside from Jimmy Medranda and Cristian Lobato season-ending knee injuries, the team is expected to be at full strength – with the exception of Seth Sinovic who will serve his one-game suspension for the first leg but will be available for selection for the second leg. With their left back in Kansas City, Manager Peter Vermes has recalled Jaylin Lindsey from the U-20 US National Team and their CONCACAF Championship campaign.
Sporting Kansas Citywill host the LA Galaxy at Children’s Mercy Park as they look to clinch a playoff spot and reclaim first place (even for a brief moment) on Saturday.
The last time these two clubs met was when Sporting KC defeated the Galaxy in a 2-0 victory when they visited the StubHub Center in Carson on Sunday, April 8.
The LA Galaxy is coming in hot off of a two-straight shutout – having defeated the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps – and will look to dash Sporting KC’s playoffs hopes.
LA Galaxy are now 4-7-4 on the road and have been having a turbulent campaign this season. Now with a new interim coach, the Galaxy are just two points away from knocking Real Salt Lake below the line.
I interviewed my fellow colleague, Michelle Huitink to get the insight:
Araceli Villanueva: LA Galaxy is coming off a two-straight shutout streak and seems to be performing well after Sigi’s departure. But is Dominic Kinnear the answer?
Michelle Huitink: I think having Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik on the bench is part of the reason the Galaxy are doing well.
Those decisions were made by [Dom] Kinnear, so in that sense, it’s working. He’s been going with basic formations. But, something definitely has been figured out, also among the players. Defensively they’ve really tightened up and are playing confidently. The touches on the ball are much better, they connect more, and are making fewer defensive mistakes. Plus, the absence of Sigi [Schmid] is the reason they are doing better.
That said, I don’t want him to be a permanent coach. He’s been on the coaching staff, so I don’t see him having any secrets. Even when “weaker” links get subbed in, the Galaxy is still able to hang on. I honestly need to see more games to say for sure; the road games will be a good test. So, I can’t really say it’s because he took over.
AV: The Western Conference has been tight this season and with the Galaxy just barely holding on, do you think the team will change anything (formation, roster, etc.) when they visit KC?
MH:Rolf Feltscher is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Though, I wouldn’t want Ema Boateng to start. [Boateng] has been playing well, too, but he’s a little short in height. His speed and that he gets between defenders are what makes him great, but we need those fresh legs in the second half – that’s when results from him really stand out. Romney and Steres seem like a good combo. Cole‘s experience shows. Additionally, Jonathan Dos Santos is a good connection between midfield and the defense – thanks to Kinnear.
I think we’ll see the same lineup. I would hope they wouldn’t change what they don’t have to if it’s working. Plus, if they keep the same formation and lineup, it can be a better sample for comparing the last two matches to road games. Gio Dos Santos seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth – minus seeing him at the season ticket holder player signing event. And since the playoffs are hanging in the balance, there’s no reason Zlatan Ibrahimovic would miss this game.
AV: Ibrahimovic is red hot right now. However, over the summer he fueled rumors about him potentially returning to Europe after the season ends – what is the latest update?
MH: At the season ticket member event on September 30th at Alpine Village Restaurant, he said he might return next season. The fans started chanting “one more year!” He’s shut down rumors about returning to Malmo despite offers.
In my personal opinion, he’s said his focus is on the Galaxy and he turned down a lot of other offers (and money) to come here. Some would say to stay here, he would want a raise since our backline is paid more.
The race for the playoffs continues as Sporting Kansas City remains in second place in the Western Conference as they settle for a 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park. The dramatic match saw goals from Ike Opara and rookie forward Corey Baird.
Sporting KC kicked off the match by coming close to scoring early after the whistle blew when Felipe Gutierrez finds the ball. Then Sporting KC earned a great set piece, thanks to a foul by Nick Besler – Matt Besler’s little brother – on Kristian Nemeth. However, Zusi’s curler goes over the crossbar.
Then the tide turned as Damir Kreilach ran the ball down but was stopped by Gerso Fernandes and Opara twice during the 7th minute.
A minute later, Jefferson Savarino runs the ball straight through Sporting KC’s defense to Baird, who then takes the early goal for the visitors giving RSL a 1-0 lead.
Sporting KC was quick to respond by creating a few opportunities but fell flat. RSL came close to doubling their lead, however, Tim Melia was able to misdirect RSL to the right of the goal post.
Trailing by one, Sporting KC consistently pressured RSL’s defense searching for the equalizer. But the home side would see most opportunities get deflected by goalkeeper Nick Rimando – who came up huge having recorded six saves.
The home side would have a chance to level just three minutes after the restart when Gutierrez found Graham Zusi with a diagonal ball, and Zusi sent in a low cross from the right side, but Rimando deflected the ball over the bar in a full stretch.
Opara sparked life back into the game by leveling the match with a perfect header over Rimando off a corner during the 52nd minute.
With the match leveled, the action escalated. Fast.
Opara’s equalizer sparked life into the match, as Sporting KC got their momentum back. But RSL almost saw a chance go begging in the 58th minute when Melia turned away Savarino’s long-distance sledgehammer.
The visitors would go much closer in the 73rd minute, however, when Baird culminated another devastating counter with a chip shot over Melia that caromed off the crossbar.
Sporting KC threatened twice, only for Rimando to intervene on both occasions. Second-half substitute Diego Rubio slipped a lovely pass in behind the RSL defense for Gerso Fernandes in the 81st minute, but the winger’s first touch allowed the RSL goalkeeper to race off his line and extinguish the danger.
Six minutes later, Zusi found Rubio near the penalty spot, but the Chilean’s side-footed attempt through traffic was blocked by Rimando’s extended left foot.
Sporting KC scrambled for the final moments of the match looking to increase their goal but despite all efforts had to split points with the Western Conference foe.
Now Sporting KC will aim at a chance for the playoffs when they host LA Galaxy on Saturday, October 6.
Sporting Kansas City is back atop the Western Conference following a 5-1 road win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Avaya Stadium. Sporting KC earned their sixth away in a dramatic fashion thanks to a collective two-goal, two-assist from Gerso Fernandes and Felipe Gutierrez, along with goals from Ike Opara and Krisztian Nemeth.
Sporting KC opened their scoring sheet in the 18th minute when Fernandes broke away from Nick Lima and delivered a cross to Gutierrez, who snuck in front of two of San Jose’s defenders to flick the serve past Andrew Tarbell into the far-right corner.
Five minutes later, the same duo would double Sporting KC’s lead with another fantastic run. This time, the duo switched places as Gutierrez came from inside the center and sent a pass to a perfectly-timed Fernandes, who clipped a brilliant chip over a bewildered Tarbell that fell inside the far post.
Sporting KC came close to scoring a third goal but a now alert Tarbell cleared a dangerous opportunity from Yohan Croziet. Later, Tarbell would be called into action again when he stopped a perfect buildup that almost saw Gutierrez earning his second goal of the night.
Nevertheless, Sporting KC added to the score after Roger Espinoza sent one down the middle, Tarbell blocks and a quick-thinking Opara leaps at the chance to bury the rebound, securing Sporting KC’s 3-0 lead into the half.
Although San Jose had an energetic start, the Earthquakes would quickly fall back after seeing their chances hit the crossbar and denied by a spry Tim Melia. But Sporting KC went on to add two more goals to their total in the second half.
The first being in the 67th minute when Nemeth sent a screamer past Tarbell. In the 80th minute, Danny Hoesen breaks through Sporting KC’s defense and pulls one back for the Earthquakes, scoring his 11th-goal of the season. In addition to, halting Melia’s clean sheet.
Sporting Kansas City moves up to second place in the Western Conference after shutting out Orlando City SC in a 1-0 victory. The club welcomed back former players, Dom Dwyer and Oriol “Uri” Rosell. However, the reunion was cut short in the 53rd minute when Felipe Gutierrez scored the winning goal. Additionally, Andreu Fontas made his official club debut and earned his first start, playing the full 90 minutes.
In an action-packed match, Sporting KC came close to opening the scoresheet just seconds after the start. Graham Zusi and Gerso Fernandes created a pair of early chances; when Zusi sent in an early corner. In addition to Gerso running down left with plenty of space.
Kristian Nemeth almost had a clear shot in the fifth minute after Yohan Croziet sent a low pass. Alas, Carlos Ascues gets a light touch and clears it out.
Orlando was quick to respond with Dwyer racing down with a long ball forcing Tim Melia – who recorded his 12th career-high shutout – to save it in a 1v1 situation.
The Lions continued to leave gaping holes in their defense. Sporting KC took full advantage of it ending the first half with 20 crosses; the most crosses in a game since their meeting with Real Salt Lake in April of 2015.
Shortly after the restart, Sporting KC was able to maintain possession but still couldn’t convert any chances. They would finally break the stalemate in the 55th minute after Yohan Croziet found an open space and sends the cross to Gutierrez, who then slams it down the middle past Joe Bendik – marking his first goal since returning from injury.
Sporting KC was brilliant for the final 25 minutes with shared opportunities between Nemeth, Gutierrez, and Croziet. Although Bendik denied the trio, it was clear Sporting KC wasn’t giving up.
The remainder of the time also saw a desperate pack of Lions trying to feed Dwyer the ball. Dwyer would get the ball on two separate occasions but Melia was quick to deny his former teammate – delivering the Lions their ninth-straight loss.
Sporting KC will go back on the road when they travel to Avaya Stadium to face the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 9:30 p.m. CT.
From denying big-name players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Diego Valeri, the buzz surrounding Tim Melia continues to grow with each game. And this upcoming Saturday’s match against Orlando City SC will be no different.
This past weekend, Sporting Kansas City fell to the Seattle Sounders 3-1, but the team will not let the loss deter them from facing Orlando City:
“There’s going to be wins, losses, and ties throughout what we’re trying to build. And coming back home to play against Orlando is just another opportunity to continue to build off of our goal and making sure we’re playing our best soccer coming into the season,” Melia said.
Melia even shared a similar sentiment regarding the team’s mentality with playoffs just around the corner:
“I think we’re all mature enough not to get roped into the game-to-game, these games at the end of the season are so important, especially with how tight the western conference is. And just making sure we’re getting points and keeping ourselves in a position that we want to be in.”
Going into his fourth season with the club, Melia is currently the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and is leading the league with a career-high 11 shutouts. Including, having earned various accolades such as MLS Best XI 2017, an ESPY nomination for Best MLS player, Player of the Week, etc.
“Accolades are great. You always trade them in for an MLS Cup or a Supporters Shield, CONCACAF, Open Cup because the individual rewards are reflective of the team and the effort of the whole group,” Melia continued. “I’m fortunate to be on a team that concentrates first on defense and it builds from the back and looks to really have that anchor in the back – that we’re going to be a good defensive team first.”
It’s tough to believe this Great River native was once traveling across the county visiting various teams working as a League Pool Goalkeeper before landing in Kansas City.
The 32-year-old has paid his dues with Real Salt Lake (2010-2011) and Chivas USA (2012-2014), serving as back-up for MLS All-Stars Nick Rimando and Dan Kennedy.
Aside from creating a high-profile career in KC, Melia has also dabbled in design – and inspired a line of gloves and athletic gear for West Coast Goalkeeping company.
Prior to joining Sporting KC, Melia reached out to West Coast Goalkeeping’s owner, Sean Norris, after being dropped from a previous glove company.
“[Sean] took me in right away [and] offered me the opportunity to design my own glove. I wasn’t even a starter at the time – that’s the type of company they are. They are big believers in developing those kinds of relationships early on.”
Even though, Melia doesn’t have any interest in pursuing design as a postgame career option. I think Melia will have plenty to look forward to in the near future. Earning recognition isn’t the only thing changing in Melia’s life, last year Melia and his wife, welcomed their first child, Rowan.
Most players look to certain family members or a particular goal for motivation, for Melia his daughter is his biggest motivator.
“It gives you more to really want to succeed for you; you’re not doing things just for you or your wife, you’re doing things for your family,” Melia said.
Along with finding new inspiration, parenthood has also taught him the importance of balancing work life:
“Having [a] strong family bond to concentrate on is beneficial in a sense – your mind is not solely focused on soccer. You need to be able to step back from things, give yourself a mental break because if it’s only this all day long [or] all night, it can wear you down.”
When asked if he has plans to train his daughter to become a keeper in the near future, Melia jokingly replied: “Absolutely not.”
While Melia continues to navigate parenthood, his goal for the club remains the same, as the team looks to secure a playoff spot in a tight race for the Western Conference.
After having a perfect August, Sporting Kansas City started the new month off on the wrong foot by falling to the Seattle Sounders 3-1. The win is their eighth straight – the most in a single season in the post-shootout era.
Sporting KC had a perfect start when Diego Rubio scored his eighth goal of the season after knocking in a half-volley to give his team the early lead in the second minute.
Unfortunately, the lead wouldn’t last long as Raul Ruidiaz found the equalizer in the 12th minute. He snuck in behind Sporting KC’s backline and tapped the ball home from close range.
Just shortly after the restart, Seattle got a lucky break. While the Ruidiaz’s goal gave Seattle life after a tough start, the game turned when the ball caromed off of Graham Zusi at an impossible angle and over Tim Melia into the net. This own-goal would later become the winning goal for the visitors later in the match.
Moments later, Seattle continued to pressure as Brad Smith’s cross ricocheted off of Ike Opara‘s upper arm from point-blank range, and Toledo awarded Seattle the penalty. Nicolas Lodeiro stepped up and tucked the ball into the corner, increasing the score 3-1.
Sporting KC received a chance to redeem themselves in the 80th minute after a straight red card was issued to Chad Marshall for a foul on Johnny Russell. Initially missed by Toledo, VAR confirmed the foul and Russell gave Nemeth the ball, but his chance quickly diminished as the attempt went straight to Frei.
The loss pushed Seattle above the line into fifth place and moved Sporting KC down to third place – just below LAFC and above Real Salt Lake by one point.
Sporting KC returns home to host Orlando City SC at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday, Sept. 8. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT.
One of the biggest questions that Sporting KC fans have had for the past few seasons is, “When will Peter Vermes sign a proven goal-scorer?” Well, guys, I think we’re good.
We’re ten games in (oh man…look at those recap articles…insert sad-disappointed emoji here) and not only are we in first place in the west…say that again for the people in the back…FIRST PLACE IN THE WEST! but we are averaging just over two goals per game, and have a +9 goal differential. All of these things are quite awesome. So let’s discuss these guys, and see what might be in store for the rest of the season.
The Top Guys
Johnny “Russellmania” Russell
Johnny Russell came from Derby (Darby) County, and he hit the ground running. If you haven’t seen this guy score in person, then you are missing out. Though I live super far away from KC now, I was able to take a spur-of-the-moment trip up to Chicago to see SKC win against the Chicago Fire. His goal was not only his first for the boys in blue, but it was also gorgeous. Just watch him blast the ball between three Fire defenders, not that anyone would have been able to stop it…
Clinical finishing from SKC's new man, Johnny Russell! And a terrific assist from @DanielSalloi.
That was his first goal, but Russell’s crowning glory so far this season was the game against the Vancouver Whitecaps where he became the 8th player in SKC history to score a hat-trick. The coolest part though is that he is the fastest player to ever get three in one game, clocking in at 48 minutes.
He could have probably scored more, but the Verms subbed him out in the 52nd minute for Cristian Lobato…who scored another goal. A 6-0 win was pretty sweet, guys. When you score three goals in one game you are almost guaranteed to be MLS Player of the Week, so naturally, that happened. Please enjoy this goal-a-palooza.
So, Felipe Gutiérrez was the leading goal-scorer in the league, then he got injured and he was still the leading goal-scorer for another two weeks. That’s what happens when you score five goals in the first five games. Quick side-note: Sporting didn’t score in their first game, so it’s basically five goals in four games.
I would like you to ignore the obnoxious music in this video and watch his field awareness. He knows exactly where the defenders and his teammates are at all times. The goal off of the backheel from Daniel Salloi should have been the goal of the week, but Atlanta United fans stuff the ballot box any time one of their guys is nominated…cough cough.
His reaction time is also crazy. The two goals off of rebounds are sheer perfection. Felipe has been injured basically since March ended. He subbed in against Vancouver but wasn’t on the field for that long, and he’s out now after sports hernia surgery. Depending on how quick he’s back, and how prolific other scorers are, he could possibly still end the season near the top of the leading scorers.
Do you need a guy to take a penalty? (Which SKC are magically getting this season. Not bitter, but we didn’t get one until almost the All-Star break last year. Pepperidge Farm remembers.) Well, we have a guy that can take your penalties. Not only will he make said penalty shot, but he won’t even make a big deal out of it. I wish he could score more, because The Cauldron has a new cheer for Ilie this season, and it is my absolute favorite thing.
My name is…
I’m from Barcelona
I play defensive-mid for the Wiz (THE WIZ)
When I walk down the street
Everyone that I meet
Says, “Hey, Muchacho, what’s your name?”
My name is…
Young Daniel has worked his way back into the starting lineup since Felipe’s injury, and if Saturday’s game was any indication, he’ll fill in fine. Daniel has scored twice so far this season, and he didn’t play at all in one game since he was coming back from international duty in Hungary. I refuse to do a Hungary pun. Refuse!
This guy is still young, and even if he’s not scoring, he provides a spark on the offensive end. He has four assists on the season including a beautiful backheel on one of Felipe’s goals from above. Check out his goal from the game against Colorado Rapids. Not only is the finish great, but literally every single piece of this puzzle is bomb.