Twice during the 2021 season Sporting Kansas City played Real Salt Lake. Twice Sporting KC lost, once at Rio Tinto in May, and a heartbreaking, controversial loss at Children’s Mercy Park on Decision Day that cost SKC first place in the Western Conference.
Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better today for SKC.
Salt Lake entered the match riding high after beating the Seattle Sounders on the road. RSL had much of the possession throughout the first 20 or so minutes of the game, though there weren’t many true threats. Sporting KC seemed content to sit back and pick their spots to start the match, a strategy that seemed to pay off in the 24th minute.
Gadi Kinda was tripped up in the RSL box by Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera, and referee Kevin Stott wasted no time pointing to the spot. Johnny Russell stepped up to the spot and buried the ball in the back of the net to give SKC the 1-0 lead.
Johnny Russell from the spot @SportingKC strikes first.#SKCvRSL // @Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/3Y1LH1LzV7— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 28, 2021
RSL and Sporting KC traded barbs for the remainder of the half with things getting chippy at times, but neither side was able to push through for another goal.
Throughout the second half the two teams traded attacking shots. Salt Lake had a real chance in the 66th minute when a dangerous cross was redirected on frame from five yards out, but Time Melia’s quick reactions kept the game at 1-0, preserving Sporting KC’s lead.
Just minutes later, though, RSL finally broke through. Salt Lake had been pressing and testing the SKC defense, and in the 72nd minute Anderson Julio got a head on the end of an Andrew Brody cross to level the game at 1-1.
Wow— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 28, 2021
Anderson Julio subs in and scores the equalizer for @realsaltlake. #SKCvRSL // @Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/iprNheMuXB
The rest of the half played out without each side having too threatening of an attempt until the last few minutes of the game. SKC had a couple good opportunities just before stoppage, but ultimately they couldn’t convert. Worst case scenario struck in stoppage time as Bobby Wood redirected a shot on target past Melia into the corner of the net for the go-ahead goal, giving RSL the winning goal.
OMG OMG OMG— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 28, 2021
BOBBY WOOD IN THE 91ST MINUTE TO GIVE #RSL THE WIN!#SKCvRSL // @Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/CEMjtziCf9
Ultimately the game finished 2-1, ending Sporting KC’s 2021 season.
It’s a frustrating end to a promising campaign for Kansas City. After Russell’s penalty kick goal, Sporting never really could muster much of an attack. SKC had just one shot in the second half, and RSL outshot SKC 11-5 on the day (5-2 on target).
Sporting KC now enter the 2021 offseason looking at how to bolster what many thought was the best SKC squad yet. DP Alan Pulido missed multiple games with injury, something that has been frustrating for many fans, and veterans Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza have yet to sign extensions with the club.
It’s too soon to fully evaluate the season without being emotional after the loss, but one thing is for sure: this is not the ending that Sporting KC players, staff, ownership, or fans wanted.