In what is no doubt their biggest game of the 2021 season so far, Sporting Kansas City traveled to the Pacific Northwest to take on the first place Seattle Sounders FC at Lumen Field. Five points back of Seattle and with a game in hand, second place Sporting KC entered the match with a great opportunity to close the gap with the Western Conference leaders.
They didn’t waste it.
Neither team was at full strength due to both injuries and international absences. While Sporting KC were without midfielder Gianluca Busio and striker Alan Pulido (along with manager Peter Vermes who was out with Covid-19), Seattle were missing midfielders Cristian Roldan, Alex Roldan, and Nicolas Lodeiro, along with goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Star forward Jordan Morris has been out for Seattle all year after suffering an ACL injury while on loan with Swansea City.
SKC started off the game in familiar fashion, controlling possession and looking calm on the ball in attack, while Seattle’s most dangerous chances early on seemed to come on the counter.
Seattle’s first real threat of the game came off a set piece in the 25th minute. Fredy Montero sent a bicycle kick on frame from near the top of the box that forced Melia to dive to his left and punch the ball left of the net.
Just minutes later Johnny Russell was brought down just outside of the Sounders box, giving Sporting a dangerous set piece in the 31st minute. Johnny confidently stepped up to take the free kick and beautifully curled it just inside the left post past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland to give SKC the early lead.
Ten minutes after opening the scoring, Sporting found themselves on a breakaway thanks to a turnover forced by a pressing Gadi Kinda. Khiry Shelton scooped up the loose ball after Kinda’s deflection and sprinted down the field on the counter. Shelton found Kinda in the box who laid a pass off for Daniel Salloi to blast off the outside of his foot into the back of the net with force, doubling SKC’s lead just before half in the 42nd minute.
Sporting looked to continue their fast-paced attacking press to start the second half earning early chances, though it was Seattle who pulled one back in the 51st minute. Kelyn Rowe sent in a cross that Melia punched away, but SKC weren’t able to completely clear the box of danger. A loose ball fell to Fredy Montero who punched the ball into the open net while Melia was still off his line.
Minutes later Seattle kept up their attacking pressure. Raul Ruidiaz saw Melia just off his line and tried a chip shot, but Tim barely got a literal fingertip on the ball, deflecting it just enough to force the ball right off the post and avoiding near disaster.
Sporting KC continued to weather some consistent pressure from a rejuvenated Seattle side, but things started to calm down after about another 10 minutes.
Homegrown player Cam Duke checked in for Gadi Kinda in the 70th minute, and two minutes into his appearance opened his MLS account, putting Sporting back up by two. Graham Zusi sent a wonderful long floating cross into the box, and Duke perfectly timed his run, scoring beautiful sliding goal off his first touch.
Seattle did their best to get back into the game throughout the remaining 18 minutes of regulation and seven minutes of stoppage time forcing Melia to make some good saves, but ultimately Sporting KC finished off the game and go back home with a vital three road points. SKC now sit just two points behind the Sounders in the Western Conference standings at 30 and 32 points respectively.
The two clubs next meet in Kansas City on September 26 before finishing off their regular season trilogy back in Seattle on October 23.
Without their best player in Alan Pulido and star midfielder in Gianluca Busio, Sporting KC proved that they could go on the road into one of the most hostile MLS environments and come out with a win. Granted, it was a shorthanded Seattle side, but this is a team that just beat Austin on the road basically with Raul Ruidiaz and a team of teenagers. Kerry Zavagnin and his men should be proud of this huge road win.
SKC is back in action at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday, July 31, against FC Dallas.