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Sporting KC attack lifts game, while defense falters in last preseason match

3-2 loss to Portland Timbers sees goals by Espinoza and Rubio

MLS: Portland Timbers vs Sporting Kansas City Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In its last preseason tilt, Sporting Kansas City took on a powerful Portland Timbers side Saturday in the third-place match in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. Each side revealed their explosive sides in a five-goal affair that had many strong attacking moments with the Timbers able to take advantage of more in a 3-2 victory highlighted by their strong second half showing.

Sporting KC, 4-1-1 in the preseason, and Portland, 1-2-1, were both expected to field first-choice lineups to tune-up for the MLS season opener coming next weekend. For Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC, competition at different spots made the lineup some degree of news for their supporters. Would newly-signed French designated player Yohan Croizet lineup at right wing where he has been ineffective this preseason or would it be last season’s leading scorer Gerso? Would newcomer Khiry Shelton remain at center forward or would incumbent Diego Rubio get the call? And would the battle at left back remain solidly in the feet of Spaniard Cristian Lobato or would home-towner and sentimental fan favorite Seth Sinovic return to the first 11?

“Yes” was the answer to all three initial questions; in addition, goalkeeper Tim Melia returned to the lineup after missing the previous contest against the New England Revolution. The Timbers lineup was a first-choice side as well.

Framed by chances by right back Graham Zusi and two by Felipe, Sporting KC gained the strongest early chance as Croizet was fed into the left of the Timbers’ box by Shelton. Croizet pulled the ball back to Felipe who gave a small touch to an onrushing Roger Espinoza whose steamrolling shot forced Timbers ‘keeper Jake Gleeson down to his left to stop the ball from going into the corner of his net.

Shelton, who had gone down earlier without any apparent contact and tried to stay in the match, was forced to give way to Rubio in the 11th minute. The degree of the injury was uncertain at the time as he walked off unassisted, yet Vermes stated it was a contusion at halftime of the online broadcast.

Strong left to midfield interplay from Lobato to Ilie to Felipe, who just misfired on a ball to Rubio, followed in the 15th minute forcing Gleeson to rush out to snuff the chance.

Croizet, looking alive on the day, was fed by Zusi in the 18th minute and bolted in a dangerous position on the right side, only to have his ball for Rubio swept away by a central Timbers defender.

Sporting continued to be successful in the attack, and a bit after another strong Zusi-Croizet combo, they found pay dirt in the 27th minute. Though questions of an offside were present, a clever Johnny Russell cross just back from the top-left of the box found Espinoza who had drifted unscathed between Portland defenders. Espinoza’s finish was an easy one from the center of the box eight yards out against the stranded Gleeson. The play began with a diagonal ball from Felipe near midfield that Espinoza let run through him on its way to Russell.

A low Russell cross nearly ended in a 2-0 lead for Sporting KC in the 34th minute, but Rubio’s flick from the right near post arced over the far-left portion of the crossbar.

The Timbers nearly leveled the match with two attacks in the 41st and 42nd minutes. The first saw Fanendo Adi on the literal doorstep of the uncovered Sporting KC goal, but he was unable to get his head or body on the cross from the left side, as his arm (undetected) hit the ball backwards away from goal. The second was similar in development, but the cross from Sebastian Blanco squirted harmlessly across the goal.

Kansas City almost doubled their joy in the first minute of first half added time via a top of the box half-volley from Croizet that was cleared off the line by a well-positioned David Guzman. The half would end with a 1-0 Kansas City lead that should have been more.

The Timbers replaced Adi and defender Lawrence Olum at the half, but Sporting KC remained unchanged.

The score changed though in the 52nd minute off a nice ball from Lobato. As the newly-christened left back crossed over the midfield line, he played a perfectly placed ball for a well-timed Rubio run. Rubio angled his touch to the left to commit Gleeson and calmly deposited the ball into the opposite side of the Timbers’ goal.

But soon after, the game was back to a one-goal affair as substitute Samuel Armenteros scored a goal similar to Rubio’s despite Ike Opara forcing him well wide left. The Swede hit the ball back right out of Melia’s stretch in the 56th minute.

Armenteros would boomerang back three minutes on, and, after a one-on-one scrum in the box with Sporting KC center back Matt Besler, he flipped the ball past a flailing Melia to level a match that had suddenly seen Kansas City listing in the water and the Timbers rising out from a possible drowning.

Vermes rotated his squad in the 62nd minute minute as Jaylen Lindsey entered for Zusi, Daniel Salloi for Johnny Russell, and Jimmy Medranda for Felipe.

The match nearly tilted back to Kansas City’s advantage from a 70th minute corner from the left by Ilie. His back-post ball was met by Rubio who climbed over Marco Farfan and struck a strong header on goal that was swatted away by Gleeson. Farfan had replaced Vytas just a minute earlier.

And it was Sporting Kansas City’s substitutes who would be victims shortly as Emiliano Amor came on for Besler, Amer Didic for Opara, and Seth Sinovic for Lobato and promptly (along with Melia) reacted sloppily to a ball in the box, allowing Foster Langsdorf to grab a 3-2 lead for Portland in the 76th minute.

Salloi rattled the crossbar for Sporting KC, and shortly after Gerso came in for Croizet, Asprilla forced a save from Melia in the 87th minute for the Timbers in this offensive show that would end 3-2 in favor of the Timbers after four minutes of stoppage time.

Sporting Kansas City will head home to Children’s Mercy Park to host NYCFC on Sunday at 6:30pm for both sides’ season opener, while Portland Timbers will start the same day at LA Galaxy’s StubHub Center.