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Sporting KC earns playoff spot with 1-0 win in Cincinatti

Not a pretty game but Espinoza goal is enough to bring home three points and guarantee post season play

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City needed a point to book themselves into a playoff spot but earned all three on the back of a Roger Espinoza goal in the 57th minute. FC Cincinnati was playing their last ever match at Nippert Stadium and did their best to leave the stadium with a win.

FC Cincy started the game looking like a team that was not at the bottom of the table, controlling the bulk of possession and creating more and better chances than the visitors in the first half. Sporting KC often seems to struggle with passing on turf and this game was no different. But the key for SKC was holding on, not conceding any goals and getting to the half where they could make adjustments.

Manager Peter Vermes brought on Roger Espinoza and Gerso for Felipe Hernandez and Khiry Shelton for the second half.

Espinoza and Alan Pulido swapped roles as SKC’s number 9 became the creator and the veteran midfielder the striker. Some excellent ball movement up the left combined with a quality run from Pulido to the side of the box led to him picking out an open Espinoza who slotted through the defense, past Spencer Richey and into the back of the net.

FC Cincy came right back with an opportunity to level the match when they were awarded a penalty by referee David Gantar. Frankie Amaya earned his team the penalty kick when Roberto Puncec tried to slow him down with a hand on his shoulder. VAR recommended a review for a handball on Amaya but Gantar did not change his mind.

Siem de Jong stepped up and took the penalty and in a rare occurrence Tim Melia went the wrong way bit de Jong’s shot hit the left post and rebounded back to de Jong. Melia stopped his follow up attempt but the play was whistled dead as de Jong had touched the restart twice.

Cincy’s sub Brandon Vazquez almost salvaged a point for the home tea, when he turned a defender and sent a difficult shot towards Melia. The SKC netminder was able to just redirect the shot enough that it bounced off the left post and out for a goal kick.

Sporting KC held on for the rest of the match and when Gantar blew the whistle SKC had officially claimed a playoff berth.

“Sometimes you have to be able to stick your nose on the end of a ball to block it for a goal not to be scored and vice versa, you’ve got to stick your nose on the end of the ball to score,” manager Peter Vermes told media after the game. “You’re going to have to scrape and scrap and fight and bite for everything in the game today. At the end, we got a really good result on the road. Those three points are massive for us at the moment and keep us in the hunt.”

The win not only earned SKC the playoff spot, it moved Vermes into a rare record. He became the first head coach to lead one club to nine playoffs.

Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Jaylin Lindsey, Roberto Puncec, Andreu Fontas, Amadou Dia; Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Hernandez (Roger Espinoza 46’), Gadi Kinda (Cam Duke 81’); Johnny Russell (C), Alan Pulido (Erik Hurtado 90’), Khiry Shelton (Gerso Fernandes 46’)

Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Matt Besler, Luis Martins, Graham Smith, Daniel Salloi

FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey; Zico Bailey (Saad Abdul-Salaam 78’), Nick Hagglund, Tom Pettersson (James McLaughlin 90’), Andrew Gutman; Kamohelo Mokotjo (Brandon Vazquez 80’), Haris Medunjanin (C); Joseph-Claude Gyau, Frankie Amaya, Jurgen Locadia (Yuya Kubo 77’); Siem de Jong

Subs Not Used: Robert Edwards, Mathieu Deplagne, Kendall Waston, Thomas McCabe, Rashawn Dally

Scoring Summary:

SKC — Roger Espinoza 2 (Alan Pulido 5, Gadi Kinda 4) 57’

Misconduct Summary:

SKC — Roberto Puncec (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 60’