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Fresh Sporting KC blood puts four on Loons

Win puts Kansas City back on top in West.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City returned to the top of the Western Conference with a convincing 4-1 win over visiting Minnesota United FC Sunday evening at home inside Children’s Mercy Park much influenced by the necessary influx of little-used and youthful talent. Daniel Salloi, rookie Wan Kuzain, Cristian Lobato, and Diego Rubio all tallied for Kansas City as they also rose back into second in the MLS Supporter’s Shield race.

The two sides met two weeks ago in Minnesota for a 1-1 draw dominated by Sporting Kansas City in every statistic but the score board, holding a 24-6 edge in shots, 9-0 in corners, and 61 percent possession. Scoring began with Khiry Shelton’s long-awaited first strike for Kansas City early in the first half before MNUFC’s Darwin Quintero drew level 12 minutes later. Last week, Sporting KC drew Columbus Crew SC 0-0 at home, while the Loons topped Montreal Impact 2-0 at home.

Although unbeaten in their last four (2-0-2), Sporting Kansas City (7-2-4 overall) has averaged only a goal a game since their 6-0 home outburst against Vancouver Whitecaps April 20; however, the defense has turned stingy garnering six shutouts in the last nine contests, four at home. Minnesota United FC (5-7-1) has only one win against five defeats away from home on the season. Respectively, the Western Conference clubs sit 2nd and 9th in the standings.

Before the match, Sporting KC listed four players on its injury report beyond key midfielder Felipe Gutierrez (out long-term with hernia surgery recovery) and winger Johnny Russell (with Scottish National Team), including forwards Khiry Shelton and Diego Rubio (questionable), and backs Brad Evans (questionable) and Jimmy Medranda (out). Minnesota sits worse with crucial midfielders Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino missing the rest of 2018 with ACL injuries, while veterans Marc Burch (knee), Sam Cronin (head) and Jerome Thiesson (leg) are also ruled out, in addition to center back and captain Francisco Calvo, who has joined Costa Rica for 2018 FIFA World Cup preparations.

As a result, winger Gerso Fernandes got his first start of the season and Cristian Lobato started on the right wing. For MNUFC, center back Brent Kallman received only his second start on the year.

Chances for Sporting came early and often as the side looked much more alive and urgent than in last week’s stalemate, perhaps due to the influx of little-used talent with something to prove.

A flurry in front of MNUFC’s goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth’s goal came in minute four. Quick interchanges led to Gerso isolated on the left, the Guinea-Bissau native nutmegged his marker, shot for goal and saw it eventually fall to right back Graham Zusi just in from the top-right corner of the 18-yard-box. The US International’s well-struck ball hit center forward Daniel Salloi on way to goal as Shuttleworth dove hard left.

As attacking midfielder Yohan Croizet and the frontline interacted effectively, more chances came, with a payoff in minute nine.

Battling between two defenders, Croizet headed the ball to Salloi’s feet. A burst of speed laterally gained the homegrown Hungarian International separation as he struck a right-footed curler that rippled the right corner of the net for the lead. Until then, Kansas City had not scored a goal at home from the run of play since April 20.

Minnesota would not be deterred, however. Two minutes on, the visitors leveled the match through Tyrone Mears who was given space 30 yards out on right. The English back wound up and beat KC netminder Tim Melia high to his left. The often super-of-late goalkeeper got his hands on the ball, but it bulged the net near the middle of the goal.

Sporting Kansas City would suffer further in the 18th minute as Croizet, effective early on the night, was forced to sub out of the match after an incident near midfield. The French-import and designated player walked slowly and gingerly off the field for 19-year-old Wan Kuzain, making his second appearance in as many matches.

Misfortune nearly knocked the hosts down further seven minutes later as a strong ball in from Minnesota was stabbed at by left back Seth Sinovic on its way to goal, forcing Melia into a sprawling save to his right.

Yet youth and their own bit of fortune pushed Sporting Kansas City back into the lead. In the 35th minute, Zusi duped his defender on the right wing with a subtle chip and played for the middle of the box. Wan Kuzain arrived and struck first time; the shot ricocheted off a defender at the far post and into the goal for the rookie’s first MLS marker.

Dogged determination then pushed Kansas City further three minutes later. Lobato efforted repeatedly to keep possession; then received a defense-splitting ball back from midfielder Roger Espinoza. The Spaniard, starting on the frontline for the first time this season, quickly fired a shot that Shuttleworth got his right arm on at the near post but looked on helplessly as it trickled into the net. The goal was Lobato’s second on the year.

The Children’s Mercy Park crowd rose two more times in the final five minutes of the half as holding midfielder Ilie forced Shuttleworth into a right-sided block with a header off a corner before blasting a 24-yard-drive off the crossbar.

More youth was served for Kansas City after the half as the veteran Sinovic was forced off due to injury in the 60th minute. Eighteen-year-old Homegrown Youth International Jaylin Lindsey stepped onto the pitch to make his long-awaited debut after an impressive preseason.

Three minutes later, Sporting would be up a man as substitute Maximiano earned his second yellow card in 18 minutes on a late tackle on Ilie.

In the 78th minute, forward Diego Rubio made his sixth appearance of the season, stepping on for Lobato. In three minutes, the Chilean would strike a well-placed ball into the right corner of the net after pulling back from two defenders on the left edge of the six-yard box. It was Rubio’s second goal in six appearances.

Captain Matt Besler and Melia staved off a late rush by the Loons to keep the lead at three before the side closed out the win.

Sporting Kansas City moves on to a busy week as they open their US Open Cup defense at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday then head to Portland Timbers for an important conference clash on Saturday.