Sporting Kansas City will host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first round of the MLS playoffs after dropping all points in its final three matches, missing out on chances to finish atop the conference. Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake and a Colorado Rapids win and a Seattle Sounders draw sealed their fate.
Rife with consequences. That is how MLS Decision Day is scheduled to be. And for hosts Sporting Kansas City and their guests Real Salt Lake, the result of Sunday’s late afternoon match at Children’s Mercy Park (and related others being played concurrently) was filled with a bevy of consequences. For Sporting, they could finish anywhere from atop the Western conference to third, out of the benefits of a first or second place finish or in. For Salt Lake, it was simple: Beat Sporting and have a chance for the postseason.
With Sporting being the 2nd highest scoring team in MLS and matches involving Salt Lake averaging 3.27 goals, a high-scoring match was portended. However, Kansas City’s starting eleven betrayed that idea to a degree with 2nd and 4th leading goal scorers (and two of three tied for top with eight assists each) Johnny Russell and Gadi Kinda absent. Ilie was another absentee, however, he and Russell were on the bench. All were listed as questionable on the injury report due to “lower body” injuries. Stepping in for the trio were Grayson Barber, Roger Espinoza, and Jose Mauri respectively, though Remi Walter took up at the #6.
Opening with vim and vigor, Sporting made it all about them early on, creating some half-chances and a Khiry Shelton shot on goal with their pressure and crisp ball movement. However, an Andreu Fontas foul led to a shot buzzing by Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia’s right post off a RSL free kick in minute eleven.
Sporting’s top gunner, Daniel Salloi, was kept under wraps by a swarming RSL defense. Finding Salloi in positions closer to goal – rather than 36 yards out – would be key to opening the match for the hosts.
By the 34th minute, Sporting had missed several opportunities to counter or free attackers into space in Salt Lake’s end. That stuttering and the guests’ quick play allowed Salt Lake to feel more of the match.
As halftime arrived with the score 0-0, Sporting had dropped to 3rd place in the West as Colorado Rapids had taken the lead by two over LAFC and Seattle Sounders were level at Vancouver.
Breaking out of halftime, Sporting nearly jumped on top as Salloi struck from close range from Shelton, then Martins followed with a blistering low drive that RSL’s David Ochoa corralled.
Ilie stepped on for Mauri in the 61st minute just as Kansas City had begun to ramp up offensive pressure with a buzzing midfield. It was the frontline, however, that seemed to lack ideas, Salloi his once brimming confidence.
Time was wearing thin for Sporting is they had ambitions of winning the West or taking second place and a CONCACAF Champions League spot next year.
Melia denied Salt Lake sub Justin Meram in the 73rd minute with a dive left, yet Sporting’s counter fizzled at Espinoza’s cross into the box from an excellent ball by Ilie went right to Ochoa.
With Shelton carrying a slight limp from an encounter a few minutes earlier, it seemed that Sporting needed a change up front. Cam Duke came on for Barber in the 83rd minute.
Two minutes on, Duke was played in by Walter, but skimmed his shot wide of the far post in a moment that brought the home fans off their feet. A revived Sporting attack then pushed forward, earning a dangerous free kick from 28 yards. Zusi’s ball in found no one, and the danger faded.
The 89th minute brought a call for an RSL hand ball in the box, however, Referee Ted Unkel did not acquiesce despite the offense considered clear by many.
Then, insult to injury as Real Salt Lake found net just short of the final whistle.
Five minutes of stoppage time came and went, much as Sporting’s chances to ripen their fate.