Sporting Kansas City’s season may not have gone as planned so far, but a big win over the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend gave players and fans hope that a playoff appearance might still be within reach. The next roadblock in the way? Former SKC player Ike Opara and Western Conference second place team Minnesota United, who came to town to take part in the “nicest rivalry in sports.”
With virtually zero room for error at this point in the season, SKC needed to take the full three points from this game to stay in the playoff hunt. Manager Peter Vermes opted to go with almost the exact same starting XI that got him the full three points against San Jose, with the only change being Daniel Salloi on the left wing instead of Jimmy Medranda.
They may have let it go down to the wire, but Sporting KC took care of business Thursday night, defeating Minnesota United 1-0 thanks to an 88th minute goal from Erik Hurtado.
Sporting KC looked the better side for much of the first 30 minutes, controlling possession and getting numerous chances on the offensive end without being able to convert any. Minnesota United didn’t really threaten in the attack until the 33rd minute, when Hassani Dotson fired a shot on goal from just inside the box. Tim Melia was able to dive and push the ball away from goal, but Mason Toye was on-hand to collect the rebound. Fortunately for SKC, Tim Melia was able to get to his feet quickly and parry the ball away with his right hand before the back line eventually cleared the danger.
Just two minutes later a gorgeous through ball to Hurtado sprung him into the box before he was taken down by defenders Ike Opara and Michael Boxall. SKC fans throughout Children’s Mercy Park called for a penalty, but head ref Rubiel Vazquez was unimpressed, and VAR never signaled for a review.
Sporting KC continued to press in the attack for the remainder of the first half, getting chance after chance and testing Minnesota United keeper Vito Mannone. It looked at times like Sporting were just about to break through, but Mannone’s repeated quick reaction saves kept the game scoreless into halftime.
The second half started much in the same way the first half did. Sporting KC continued to control the pace of play, aggressively pushing in the attack and sending dangerous crosses across the face of goal but ultimately leading to nothing.
Sporting KC nearly took the lead in the 75th minute, soon after Gerso checked into the game. The speedy winger broke free down the left side of the field and sent a dangerous cross in toward Erik Hurtado. Minnesota defender Michael Boxall made a sliding stop to keep the ball away from Hurtado but instead hit it straight back at his own net. Unfortunately for Sporting KC, it happened to be right at the Loons keeper, who was able to keep the game scoreless.
Everything changed in the 88th minute.
Sporting KC had been the better side all game, winning possession handily and outshooting the Loons nearly 2 to 1. All the offensive work finally paid off when Johnny Russell laid off a beautiful pass to striker Erik Hurtado, who touched the ball around keeper Vito Mannone and skillfully put the ball in the back of the net for the game winning goal.
After earning the full three points on the night, Sporting KC moves up to ninth place in the West with 34 points, just three points out of a playoff spot. With just three home games and four road games left in the season, every home point is a must for the remainder of the season.
SKC now have a nine day break before welcoming the Houston Dynamo to Children’s Mercy Park. The Dynamo are in a bit of turmoil themselves, having recently fired head coach Wilmer Cabrera (who was subsequently hired by the Montreal Impact). Former Sporting KC player is acting as interim head coach for the Dynamo.
Sporting KC vs. the Dynamo will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 31.