Sporting Kansas City earned their sixth away win on the season at San Jose Earthquakes in easy fashion led by Gerso and Felipe Gutierrez’s combined 3.3 on the Richter Scale with three goals and three assists, as well as goals by Kristzain Nemeth and Ike Opara.
Sitting in second place in MLS’s Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City traveled to bottom-sitting San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium Saturday night in a contest that held much significance for the visitors. A win would mean vaulting over first-place FC Dallas and a solidifying of a top-two finish for a knockout-round playoff bye and home-field advantage in the first round of the MLS playoffs.
Somewhat surprisingly, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes left all three of his players who returned from international duty during the week – striker Diego Rubio (Chile) and wingers Johnny Russell (Scotland) and Daniel Salloi (Hungary) – on the bench at the beginning of the match. The only change from last week’s 1-0 win over Orlando City was the return of Ike Opara, in place of Andreu Fontas, who had spelled captain Matt Besler’s usual center back partner due to yellow card caution accumulation.
The first quarter-hour was evenly played, but Kansas City grabbed the lead in 19th minute. Right back Graham Zusi switched cross-field to Gerso Fernandes who settled, stepped-over, pulled a deceptive hesitation, bolted to his left, and sent in a low cross near-post to Felipe Gutierrez who had ghosted in behind two San Jose defenders to flick the serve past beleaguered San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell with his left foot and into the far-right corner. It was Gutierrez’s seventh of the season and his second in as many matches.
Only six minutes on, Sporting KC doubled their pleasure through the same pairing. Carrying horizontally near midfield, Gutierrez threaded a pass that beat four defenders for a deep, timely-running Gerso. As Tarbell rushed out high to his right, Gerso chipped into the net with his now seemingly-schooled left foot. Nearly as surprising, it was Gutierrez’s first assist of the season, and Gerso’s fourth goal.
Sporting’s Frenchman Yohan Croizet nearly made it three in the 32nd minute. On the right wing, Croizet quick cut to his left and bent a shot labeled for the far corner. However, Tarbell leapt, rotated his shoulders, and pushed away the shot with his left-hand for an eventual innocuous corner.
But the score would soon be 3-0 just before the half. After a near-goal from Gutierrez, the Chilean served in a corner from the right in the 43rd minute. The ball fell to left back Seth Sinovic, who fed back squarely for Roger Espinoza. Espinoza shot at Tarbell, who spilled to a doorstep-ready Opara, who touched in for his second of the year.
Though the first-half featured no fouls from either side for the first time in the 23-year history of MLS, the early second-half saw three fouls, two from San Jose.
San Jose continued their new-found aggressiveness and nearly found the scoreboard in the 58th minute when midfielder Jahmir Hyka hit a right-footed shot 12 yards out from the right of Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia. The attempt struck the crossbar, continuing the hope for Kansas City’s sixth shutout win in their last seven matches.
To revive a slowing Kansas City tempo, Vermes inserted Russell into the Sporting lineup for right winger Croizet in the 65th minute. And the move would be soon followed by a lightning counterattack engineered by the two who had carved out a trail of misery for the hosts all night. From a Opara clearance, Sinovic fed Espinoza, who fed an outlet to Gutierrez. Gutierrez curved a pass into Gerso’s path behind the defense. The Guinea-Bissau native selflessly fed to a right channel-running Krisztain Nemeth who beat Tarbell with a simple, yet crisp low ball inside the keeper’s near post. The goal was Nemeth’s first since returning to Sporting Kansas City in a trade with the New England Revolution on August 6th. Four minutes later, Nemeth would be substituted for Rubio.
The only negative of night for Sporting KC came in the 80th minute as Earthquakes’ substitute Danny Hoesen beat Melia from 25 yards out to spoil the shutout.
In the 83rd minute, Gianluca Busio stepped on for Gutierrez.
The final dagger to the chest of the Earthquakes would begin on the right side as Sporting attacked in the 86th minute, but it would return to the left foot of Gerso. Russell carried inside before feeding for Rubio on the overlap. Rubio’s cross-box ball was hit by Gerso 12 yards out on the left on the full-volley. The ball tucked inside Tarbell’s right post and meant two goals and two assists for Gerso on the night.
Sporting Kansas City will play at Philadelphia Union next Sunday as the kings of the West with 51 points in 28 matches to go with 54 goals, their most scored in a single season since 1997.