Leading up to Sporting Kansas City’s hosting of Vancouver Whitecaps Sunday afternoon at Children’s Mercy Park, their 2021 season begged for a dominating performance from start to finish. A smooth, high possession, ball-control display punctuated by three goals from a rounding-into-form attack and a team defense that needed only two saves from a returning Tim Melia delivered just that in a 3-0 win. Homegrown winger Daniel Salloi hit for one and Mexican striker Alan Pulido for two goals in the rout.
Coming into the match, both Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver Whitecaps held 2-2-1 records and identical roads to them early in the 2021 Major League Soccer season. Thus, each was working to rebound from a Wednesday evening 1-0 road loss: Kansas City at Houston Dynamo and Vancouver at Minnesota United.
In the starting eleven for the first time this season for Sporting was goalkeeper Tim Melia after suffering a pectoral injury in the preseason. The rest of the eleven chosen by Manager Peter Vermes for his side’s third match in eight days included Ilie and Andreu Fontas returning as a center back pairing, flanked right to left by Graham Zusi and Luis Martins. The midfield featured Gianluca Busio at the #6, Roger Espinoza, and Gadi Kinda, and upfront ran Khiry Shelton, Alan Pulido, and Daniel Salloi.
Lashing rain much of the morning and rain forecast (absent at kickoff, however) for the match kept conditions unpredictable, though the temperature ideal for soccer, as the match began.
Sporting began on the front foot, as is their custom. A well-placed Kinda ball across the box in the 5th minute off an Espinoza cross created the best early chance, but the ball found Shelton unaware in the right channel of Vancouver’s box near the spot.
On a rare Vancouver foray, Ilie upended Cristian Dajome and received a yellow for his effort in the 9th minute.
Sporting had 72.5% of the possession and an advantage in shots, etc. after 19 minutes, yet only a .2 in expected goals. A series of attacks would soon turn the match, however.
A Martins’ pass found an on-the-trot Espinoza at the Whitecaps near post in the 21st minute. Literally on the trot, as the Honduran touched in stride, trinkling the ball outside the post.
Eliciting yet another “Ohhh” from the crowd in the 27th, a central Salloi hit a Zusi cross just wide right of net.
Then in the 28th, Sporting and Salloi cashed in. Playing a give-and-go with Pulido after slicing in the from the left, Salloi placed the ball beyond the extended left foot of Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and inside the far post. The goal was the 24-year-old homegrown’s second on the season.
More cash money would be found three minutes later. This time Salloi battled for a ball off a Kinda touch from a Pulido cross to the left of Vancouver’s spot. In the ensuing scrum, Salloi was felled and Referee Alan Kelly called for a penalty. Pulido took the reins and deposited the spot kick into the lower left corner of net for the 2-0 lead.
The inevitable Sporting let up followed; nevertheless, Kansas City employed some emergency defending and came away clean into halftime after a few Vancouver attacks.
The half began with a near head-in-hands moment for Sporting KC when Shelton played a pass back to Ilie deep and to the right in Sporting’s own box. Normally a lock in similar situations, Ilie’s composure betrayed him as he tried to play a pass out of coming pressure. The pass was foul and ended up on the foot of a Dajome who skied his shot from the doorstep of making it a one-goal contest.
The bizarre was not over. In a wild three-minute stretch, Sporting was denied three or four times in front of Vancouver’s goal. A Martins free kick, a Zusi low burner, and then flailing bodies wherein Shelton, amongst others, took shots at goal only to be denied.
In the 58th minute, the skillful Pulido would not be denied. As a strong #9 does, Pulido calmly took down a Kinda cross amid three defenders just inside the left side of the box, touched right, and struck low back to the left inside the Whitecaps’ near post for his second marker of the match and a 3-0 Kansas City lead.
Remi Walter entered the match for Kinda in the 67th minute in a straight up switch. Nine minutes later, Jaylin Lindsey and Zusi made a similar swap.
Cameron Duke for Espinoza and Wilson Harris for Pulido rounded out the substitutes in the 88th minute as Sporting closed out the match, allowing no real scares from the Vancouver attack.
Kansas City will now enjoy a full week of training before heading West to San Jose for a late Saturday evening tilt with the Earthquakes.