Sporting Kansas City opened the Western Conference playoffs by hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday night. Not only did they host, but they found a way to win their first match of the year when they came off 10 or more days of rest (they were previously 0-2-2). Let’s figure out how they got it done.
SKC saw a return of many of their starters as Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda returned to the lineup, while Alan Pulido would start the night on the bench (and finish it there too).
The Whitecaps put out the same lineup they’ve been using in most games as they’ve surged their way into the playoffs.
Sporting controlled much of the early part of the game but had an early scare when Remi Walter was undercut going up for a ball and was down for the better part of two minutes. Thankfully, he was able to continue.
That control would remain until around the 15th minute when Vancouver finally started to maintain some possession but it would be Sporting Kansas City that would strike first. The attack came up the left side of the pitch after Graham Zusi hit a switch to Daniel Salloi who then sent a long switch back to Graham Zusi who stretched himself to get a ball back into the box where Khiry Shelton got a foot on it and chipped it in past an outstretched Maxime Crepeau. 1-0 SKC!!
In the 30th minute SKC would earn another good opportunity as they worked the ball into the box where they found Johnny Russell who went with his right foot and sent it wide of the far post. Moments later another counter would come from SKC as Gadi Kinda tore his way up the pitch, finding Luis Martins who hit a cross that Vancouver couldn’t quite deal with and it would fall to Salloi (who had shifted to the right). Salloi cut the ball back to Russell who this time used his preferred left foot and blasted a shot, but it went right to the keeper who kept the lead to just one goal.
That dominance would continue until Vancouver sent a long ball into the box and Luis Martins leaped to head it but missed and it hit his arm as it’s on the way out of bounds. The ref missed it initially but the VAR signals for a review and it’s overturned to a PK. Of course VAR works right in the playoffs, but not right in the game that would have given SKC a bye. Cristian Dajome stepped up and converted it in the 39th minute. 1-1.
Sporting had looked disjointed for a bit, but in first half stoppage time, Daniel Salloi got in deep against Jake Nerwinski. Salloi cut it back and gets tangled with the defender and they both go down as the ball trickles away. The crowed chanted VAR but the broadcast never showed an angle that made it clear who won the ball, though it did appear to show Nerwinski holding on to Salloi.
The ensuing free kick (outside the box for a subsequent foul immediately after this no-call) would lead to a corner which would lead to the game’s third goal. Johnny Russell sent in the corner that was punched away but found the head of Khiry Shelton who flicked it on where a Vancouver defender touched it the wrong direction and the ball eventually fell to Nicolas Isimat-Mirin who’d get a knee on it to put it home. His first goal in a Sporting KC uniform! 2-1 SKC at the death of the first half.
At the half, Vancouver had actually taken quite a lead in possession (58% to 42%) but trailed in shots (10 to 3) and shots on goal (4 to 2).
The second half would get underway and Sporting would struggle to maintain possession early. The best they could do is win a ball and immediately clear it, often out of bounds or back to the Vancouver defense. After about seven minutes of seeing none of the ball, Sporting finally got going to had some decent possession, but they couldn’t seem to find a shot. Until they did...
Sporting once again worked the ball up the left side of the pitch where Salloi casually dribbled across nearly the entire top of the 18-yard box before laying the ball off to Graham Zusi who hit a wonder strike!! 3-1 SKC in the 58th minute. It was Zusi’s first goal of 2021.
The game would get pretty wide open after this with KC consistently finding countering opportunities, but often missing a pass before they can get off a chance. But it was Vancouver who would test SKC next. However, Tim Melia would come up huge with a diving save against Brian White in the 69th minute to maintain the two goal lead.
Vancouver gave Sporting another scare in the 79th minute as they whipped a ball into the box but it somehow missed numerous bodies and flew out of a goal kick.
Shelton got his second quality chance of the game in the 85th minute where he was once again the outlet of a long ball, as he had been all night, and he finally took on his defender Andy Rose. Khiry dribbled into the box with pace but his eventual shot went wide.
Immediately after, Vancouver would put the ball into the back of the net, but the AR came to the rescue. Gaspar was offside in the build up, so the Cavallini goal was immediately wiped from the board.
It wouldn’t come until the 87th minute, but Sporting KC did finally make their first sub bringing on Roger Espinoza for Gadi Kinda. With eight days between games, and the game going so well, this comes as no surprise.
As the game winded down, Vancouver picked up a handful of yellow cards for bad challenges and silly plays, but it wouldn’t matter as SKC would close it out and win it 3-1. They away the winners of Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders. If RSL wins, it’s an SKC home game. If Seattle do, then it’s off to Lumen Field.