It was a fight to the very last roll of the ball, but Sporting KC is moving on!
Visiting Real Salt Lake fought back an early deficit to make for a frantic finish in the 2nd leg of the Western Conference Semifinals. SKC won on Sunday by a final of 4-2 (5-3 aggregate) with Daniel Salloi recording a brace along the way. Diego Rubio & Ilie Sanchez also contributed goals in this action packed affair.
A corner kick at the four minute mark was the first look on goal for SKC. Salt Lake keeper Rimando tried to punch the ball away from danger but made an absolute mess of it. Ilie was waiting at the back post to smash it home but Rimando saved himself, tipping the shot just over the bar.
As the banner above the Cauldron clearly explained, the home side was relentless in the opening stages. The pressure continued and in the 7th minute, Salloi came within inches of turning in beautiful cross from Felipe Gutierrez.
The RSL defense could only take so much. In the 14th minute Johnny Russell broke them down with a ball straight through the middle. Gutierrez was charging into the box and unselfishly pushed it over to Rubio to open the scoring.
Felipe would get his second assist just five minutes later, this time linking up with Salloi. He gathered in the ball with his chest in the midfield before turning towards goal and slipping a pass between two defenders. Salloi took the softest of touches before firing it passed a stationary Nick Rimando.
Sporting was enjoying the majority of the possession and went into halftime with a 3-1 aggregate lead. This trend continued when they came out of the break, the ball barely making it’s way into the defensive half.
But the entire tone of the match would change abruptly in the 60th minute.
Real Salt Lake were finally able to sneak into their final third. Joao Plata came in from the left flank and cut by Zusi as if he wasn’t even there. The tiny Ecuadorian sent a cross to the top of the box for Sebastián Saucedo, who placed it into the corner of the net. Just like that the visitors were a goal away from advancing.
Peter Vermes’ men responded appropriately however. Rubio earned a penalty kick just seven minutes later after being taken down in front of goal. Ilie stepped up and chipped it down the middle as Rimando dove to his left. Cold as ice. The two goal margin was briefly restored.
But Real Salt Lake wasn’t done yet. They were able to earn a corner kick in the 72nd minute and they pushed everyone forward. Plata played a perfect cross and Damir Kreilach went up for a free header. He blasted it home and the SKC defense was left with their palms in the air.
While the SKC attack looked nearly unstoppable at times, the defense was giving away far too much. RSL began playing with confidence and were creating chance after chance. Sporting were unable to clear their lines several times, very lucky to not concede.
Yohan Croizet & Khiry Shelton were brought on for fresh legs to secure the one goal margin. The closing 15 minutes were quite tense, and made worse when the referees announced seven minutes of stoppage time.
Children’s Mercy Park was pleading, howling for the final whistle as the time ticked away.
With the full weight of The Blue Hell bearing down upon them, disaster found RSL in the back. Salloi pounced on a terrible mistake and sent a “no-look” pass into the open net.
The referee even didn’t bother restarting the match and blew the final whistle with Sporting Kansas City celebrating the 5-3 aggregate win in the corner.
Their rivals scratched & clawed every inch of the way, but SKC is moving on to the MLS Western Conference Championship against the Portland Timbers. The first leg will be played in Portland on November 25th, before wrapping it up in KC on November 29th.