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A half-dozen will do – Sporting Kansas City drops 9-man Vancouver

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A Johnny Russell hat trick and a melee’ highlight eventful evening.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken

Sporting Kansas City tied their club record for most goals and largest margin of victory and went seven points up in MLS’s Western Conference with a rousing 6-0 take-down of Vancouver Whitecaps Friday night at Children’s Mercy Park. Johnny Russell scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Medranda scored a wonder-goal, and Cristian Lobato and Yohan Croizet added their first tallies of the season.

Riding a six-game unbeaten streak, Sporting Kansas City looked to go seven points atop MLS’s Western Conference as they hosted 3rd-place Vancouver Whitecaps Friday night at Children’s Mercy Park. But Vancouver post a significant threat as they have played spoiler before, ending Sporting’s 24-home game unbeaten streak that had spanned over two seasons last September 30, one of two defeats the Whitecaps put on Sporting KC in as many meetings in 2017. Furthermore, Vancouver’s 19 road wins since 2015 are the most in MLS.

Sporting KC (4-2-1) drew Seattle Sounders 2-2 at home last Sunday, while Vancouver dropped a 2-0 decision at home to LAFC. Sporting KC’s lineup saw the surprise first MLS appearance for offseason acquisition and center back Emiliano Amor for stalwart Ike Opara from the draw, yet leading scorer Felipe Gutierrez returned to the 18 after missing the last two matches due to a hip injury. Vancouver (3-3-1), still missing their leading scorer in former Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara, due to a groin injury, made four lineup changes. In were midfielders Yordy Reyna and Aly Ghazal, forward Anthony Blondell, and back Brek Shea, out were Cristian Techera and Russell Teibert, Erik Hurtado, and Jake Nerwinski respectively.

Passes just off the mark by the hosts led to early counters for Vancouver, culminating in Reyna being fed in alone on Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia in the 7thminute. Reyna seemed to have Melia beaten, but the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year recovered to knock the ball off its sure course into the net.

Having survived the early heart-stopper, the hosts jumped on top three minutes on. Right back Graham Zusi played midfielder Roger Espinoza just wide right of Vancouver’s box while Johnny Russell made his entry run into the box just off the near post. Espinoza sighted the Scot who finished a low right-footed shot off the far post and into the net from 10 yards for the all-important lead and his third of the season.

The former Derby County man further endeared himself to Kansas City supporters in just six more minutes. Receiving a cross-field pass from Espinoza, Russell drove methodically at the defense, beat Whitecaps back Efrain Juarez with a cut to the right, and fired a shot that bounded off captain Kendall Waston and into the net past a helpless Stefan Marinovic.

Vancouver, now seeing much less of the ball, came close in the 23rd minute as Reyna flighted a 25-yard ball from the left to Blondell at the far post of Melia’s goal. Blondell boldly volleyed first time, only to see the ball scoot tantalizingly wide of the far post and out for a goal kick.

Seven minutes later, however, the guests must have felt punch-drunk. Off an innocuous ball from Salloi 30 yards out near the touchline, Jimmy Medranda touched, took four steps, and tagged a 25-yard out steamer that rose over the rising 6’3” Marinovic and dipped under the crossbar. 3-0 Sporting Kansas City. The stunner was Medranda’s second of the season.

The pitch did turn into a ring in the 36thminute after a very late, sliding Waston tripped Espinoza from behind, although a later look revealed there was not contact. With Espinoza on the turf and Waston yelling over him, Russell shoved Waston, and Juarez shoved Russell igniting a near melee’ as players from both sides surged forward to protect their comrades; then Reyna threw Russell to the pitch followed by Juarez returning to shove his hand into Russell’s face. After initial yellows were shown to Waston, Russell, Juarez, and Reyna, Referee Kevin Stott called for Video Review and, instead, gave red card ejections to Juarez (foul and abusive language) and Reyna (unsporting behavior).

Russell was not done however. In the ensuing eight minutes of first-half stoppage time, Russell broke into the top right of Vancouver’s box and was taken down by a flat-footed former Sporting KC back Marcel de Jong. Kansas City’s designated PK-taker, Ilie, fired the spot kick right but Marinovic anticipated to parry it away and gain a moment for the visitors.

The halftime pause did little to slow Sporting KC’s hunger to add to their haul up two men. In the 48th minute, Russell completed his hat-trick with one straight from the training ground off a short corner. Russell played back for a deep Matt Besler who returned to Russell off a bent run that was dummied by an oncoming Espinoza. Russell carried near-post and calmly chipped over a beleaguered Marinovic into the net.

As tradition has it, Russell left the field to a well-deserved standing ovation in the 52nd minute for the in-coming Cristian Lobato.

Sporting would continue to pour it on as Lobato tallied two minutes after coming on. The Spaniard chested in at the back post to the Marinovic’s left off a Yohan Croizet cross that Marinovic deflected with his right foot while diving left in anticipation of a possible cut-back by the Frenchman. And it would be Croizet exorcising his goal-scoring demon in the 76th as he took a bounding ball at nine yards out from Vancouver’s goal on the right and deposited it past Marinovic with the outside of his right foot.

That’s how the party, err, match would end. Six scores and an evening to remember for the hosts and a bruised ego and heads dropped for the guests who over-stayed their welcome.

Sporting Kansas City will head to New England Revolution next Saturday, while Vancouver Whitecaps return home to face Real Salt Lake.

Here are the highlights, oddly without the red card incidents shown.