Saturday brought us the final round of the Desert Diamond Cup and the final game of the preseason for Sporting Kansas City and New York City FC. It would be the third meeting between the two teams, having met once each in the prior two season. SKC would play a starter heavy lineup with some notable changes. Dom Dwyer would give way to Soony Saad at center forward. Soni Mustivar resumed his starting spot over Ilie Sanchez and Daniel Salloi got the start over Latif Blessing who took quite a beating on Wednesday.
Today's #NYCFC Starting XI— New York City FC (@NYCFC) February 25, 2017
Wallace Villa Harrison
Moralez Herrera Ring
Matarrita Callens Chanot Allen
The game started fairly dynamically with both teams getting some early chances. The first great opportunity for SKC came in the 9th minute with a through pass from Soni Mustivar to Benny Feilhaber who would slot the ball home, only to be called offside.
Mustivar looked like a man trying to win the starting spot at the defensive midfield role as he continuously put himself in the correct spot to intercept passes and break up play.
The other noticeable thing in the first half was how freaking wet the field was. Players were falling all over themselves, into one another and just generally having trouble with their footing. The field was wet down quite a lot before the game. When speaking with FC Tucson officials earlier in the week they indicated their field hadn’t gotten much of a break since their last season because of so many other teams using it in the offseason. The desert isn’t exactly known to being habitable to grass.
While no official stats are kept for these preseason games, it would appear that NYCFC had the run of possession. Their new Designated Player Maxi Morales and superstar David Villa worked well with their wingers Rodney Wallace and Jack Harrison to look dangerous on more than one occasion early in the match. New York are a team with lots of speed on the wing and to that end Zusi seemed to struggle with that.
Despite New York jumping out to a strong start and controlling the game, it went into the half tied 1-1.
One bright spot for Sporting Kansas City in the first half was the play of Daniel Salloi. He consistently got good touches, made a couple nice runs and looked good generally with the ball at his feet.
Laaaaateerrrrrrrrr✌ pic.twitter.com/ol5lHyyIe4— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) February 25, 2017
The second half looked like it would be better for Sporting KC. The only change in the lineup was Saad Abdul-Salaam replacing Graham Zusi at right back. Sporting controlled the first five minutes until NYC broke down the field. For probably what will be the first of many connections between Morales and Villa, Morales hustled to win a ball in the corner and send a cross into Villa which he would head home. 1-0 NYC.
From there the slipping, sliding and sloppy play would continue for SKC. Several players turned the ball over but none worse than Ike Opara who left his center back partner, Matt Besler, in a three on one situation. Somehow Besler won the ball but Sporting would concede a free kick just outside the box. Villa took it, kept it on frame and it would take a Tim Melia save to keep the goal difference to just a single goal.
In the 65th minute things would change when Benny would make a wonderful steal 20 yards outside the box with a slide tackle. From there he took it alone into the box and would draw a penalty when he was taken down. Benny stayed down for a while and perhaps because of that Soony Saad took the penalty. Saad would have his shot saved by new keeper Sean Johnson.
Just after that Benny would be replaced by Jimmy Medranda who would immediately make an impact. He came up through the midfield, skipped a pass into the box and eventually in the chaos Salloi would get off a half chance that would be saved.
Salloi had another good chance after a Roger Espinoza interception led to an open cross in the box but Salloi would miss that pass in about the 71st minute. Shortly after that Soni Mustivar tried to do a back header but sent it to David Villa. Villa, Morales and Wallace were running at Opara and Besler but thankfully Wallace’s shot would slip wide.
Sporting would continue to look dangerous until the 82nd minute when Soony Saad made a questionable tackle from behind on 16-year-old James Sands that would lead to a straight red card. Despite being down a man Sporting KC controlled most of the rest of the game through the hustle of subs like Latif Blessing (replaced Daniel Salloi) and Tyler Pasher (who replaced Gerso Fernandes). It however, wasn’t enough, as SKC ultimately fell to NYC 1-0.
Just one week from today the SKC will hit the road for the MLS season opener against D.C. United. It will likely be the last times the team meet at RFK Stadium as United get a new home in 2018.