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Target Acquired: Sporting KC Score Three in Victory

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Goals from two defenders—Ike Opara and Saad Abdul-Salaam—as well as Soony Saad (or Jimmy Medranda, depending on who you ask!) earned Sporting Kansas City a full three points today at Children’s Mercy Park.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting KC
Revenge over last month’s loss to Southern Canada United FC.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With plenty to play for—to bounce back not only from a lamentable road loss last weekend against the Colorado Rapids, but also from a loss last month against Minnesota Southern Canada United FC—Sporting Kansas City came up with the goods in a decisive 3-0 victory over their northerly neighbors.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes made several changes to its starting XI out of necessity due to national team call-ups, injuries, and suspensions. While club captain Matt Besler was recalled from the senior USMNT camp for this game due to an injury to Kevin Ellis and Erik Palmer-Brown’s absence while captaining the USMNT U-20 team in South Korea for the U-20 FIFA World Cup, his compatriot Graham Zusi remained with the Yanks for their friendly against Venezuela later tonight.

Dom Dwyer continued to recover from injury as he did not start but still made the game day 18, and Roger Espinoza sat out due to an automatic one-game suspension from being sent off against the Colorado Rapids last weekend (and thankfully that suspension is served since his Honduras National Team call-up was not yet in effect).

In their places stepped Saad Abdul-Salaam at right back for Zusi, Soony Saad at striker for Dwyer, and Latif Blessing at left wing, moving Jimmy Medranda to Espinoza’s usual berth in central midfield. The other regulars—Gerso Fernandes, Ilie Sanchez, Benny Feilhaber, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, and Tim Melia—all reprized their starting roles to kick off the proceedings at Children’s Mercy Park.

The retooled boys in blue came to play, clearly intent on avenging last month’s 2-0 defeat up in Southern Canada, as Gerso and Medranda especially generated several chances in the early going, resulting in a couple of spectacular near misses and a couple more shots on goal that tested Loons keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. Meanwhile, Minnesota clearly intended on following the well-established blueprint of hunkering down inside a defensive bunker to try to escape CMP with a point, and almost all of the action continued to take place in front of Shuttleworth’s goal.

The flurry of chances continued throughout the first half as Medranda and Saad in particular continued to combine for chances—but all ended in misses or saves. All told, SKC took sixteen shots to Southern Canada’s one in the first half (although the Loons did lead in the all-important category of cautions-for-delaying-restarts two to nil).

The club had nothing to show for their extensive attacking efforts until the very end of the first half when Ike Opara scored not with his head (as has become a customary sight for the Sporting faithful), but with an unexpected long-range shot that froze an astonished Shuttleworth and sent Sporting KC into the dressing rooms up ahead by a much-deserved goal. It’s possible Medranda deflected it but the replay is inconclusive.

While Southern Canada United FC came out of its bunker to start the second half, intent on restoring parity and demanding an early reflex save from Tim Melia (who, to this point, had practically been a spectator in the Cauldron), the lead was soon doubled about ten minutes into the second half as Saad launched a long-range rocket of his own, which bounced under the crossbar and out for Medranda to subsequently head in.

Medranda initially claimed the goal, but replays showed conclusively that Saad’s shot had completely crossed the entirety of the goal line. As of this writing, however, Medranda is officially credited with the goal per MLSsoccer.com.

Uncharacteristically, Peter Vermes burned through all three of his substitutions in short order, as Dom Dwyer, Soni Mustivar, and Daniel Salloi all came on for Saad, Medranda, and Latif Blessing, respectively, in a span of fifteen minutes or so. Salloi in particular made his presence known as he unspooled a long-range shot of his own that forced a diving and punching save from Shuttleworth—who looked far more assured on that shot than he had on a similar shot in the second half from Gerso, which almost went through his gloved fingertips and into the net, but instead fluttered just wide.

Finally, during a series of corner kicks late in the match, Saad Abdul-Salaam, in his first start of the 2017 MLS season, notched his first career MLS goal. Having remained up following one of the set pieces, he lunged forward to push home a ball that skidded across the face of goal and right into his path. The celebration of the entire team after the goal for Abdul-Salaam’s accomplishment says all that needs to be said about the esteem he is held in within the club, even with his starting position now taken.

With a final score of 3-0, Sporting Kansas City returned home in style to bounce back from a tough road result against the Colorado Rapids, and they return to action in one week’s time against the Montreal Impact, before another rematch against Southern Canada—this time in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.