Three more means four for Sporting Kansas City. Winning their fourth MLS match in a row and gaining their fourth shutout in a row, Sporting Kansas City took the match by the neck early in the second half via goals by Yohan Croizet and Diego Rubio to lift a somewhat sluggish first half performance to three full points over visiting Minnesota United FC.
Third-place Sporting Kansas City, rising back up MLS’s Western Conference standings on a three-match win and shutout streak, hosted 9th place Minnesota United Saturday evening at Children’s Mercy Park hoping to continue their consistent run of form. The meeting was the third and last of the season, and part of an overall series Sporting has dominated at home, scoring 11 goals to MNUFC’s single since the Loons joined MLS in 2017.
Beset by four lingering injury concerns themselves, including left back Jimmy Medranda (out for the season) and short-term injuries to Cristian Lobato, Brad Evans, and Khiry Shelton (who have all returned to training), Sporting takes on a similar sitting United club, most significantly missing its leading scorer Darwin Quintero. Perhaps Sporting was set to exacerbate United’s 1-10-1 2018 road woes and continue where they left off June 3 in their 4-1 home victory over the guests.
Kansas City, as is their custom, fluidly played from side-to-side, working their attacking triangles with midfielders Felipe Gutierrez (on the left) and Roger Espinoza (right) as the hinge points. However, no initial forays caused the Loons much concern as the final run or pass was absent or snuffed out.
Subsequently, by the 25th minute, Sporting KC’s best chances were on 25-yard plus shots by backs Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic, both which zipped narrowly wide right and left of Bobby Shuttleworth’s goal respectively. Sinovic’s shot was his first of three in the half.
Minnesota midfielder Eric Miller was forced out of the match in minute thirty-three for back Jerome Thiessen. Attacking Miller’s vacated side four minutes later, right winger Johnny Russell continued his active night, letting loose a knuckling left-footed shot from inside the box on the right that Shuttleworth punched away. Still Kansas City, who had scored multiple goals in 10 of its last 13 matches in all competitions, remained empty on the night.
Drama was saved for extra-time as Kansas City was forced to voraciously defend their area off a MNUFC corner. The frantic scrum ended with Sinovic and Espinoza swinging at the ball to clear it and nearly clearing out each other after an initial kick save by Sporting netminder Tim Melia. However, damage was averted and the half ended scoreless.
French midfielder Yohan Croizet came on for Gutierrez at the half. And… scored two
minutes later. Russell fed centrally at the top of the box. Running horizontally left-to-right, Croizet touched away with his left and hit a low right-footed shot under Shuttleworth for a long-pined-for Sporting Kansas City lead. The goal was the designated player’s second on the season to go with two helpers.
The Loons, however, would not fade into the abyss. Off a wide-right attack led by Angelo Rodriguez, forward Mason Toye received the flighted ball yet shot over the top of Tim Melia’s goal in the 54th minute.
Eight minutes later, Russell would feed centrally again. This time, it was to Diego Rubio. The MLS leader in goals per 90 minutes, struck his seventh of the season under Shuttleworth after crisply stepping left then right over the ball with his right foot. With two assists on the night, Russell now claims eight goal and eight assists in his first MLS season with nine matches remaining. Rubio would leave the match to a rousing ovation in the 73rd minute for newly-signed striker Krisztian Nemeth.
Still, Minnesota kept their head above water. Off a spry, defense-beating run on the right side by Romario Ibarra in the 82nd minute, Ibson took aim at Melia’s left corner only to hit his shot off the bar and away from danger.
With the win, Sporting Kansas City skipped over LAFC back into second place with 45 points, now only one point behind leaders FC Dallas. Sporting will travel to West foes Seattle Sounders next Saturday, while Minnesota United is off until September 12 when they play at DC United.