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Home cooking: Sporting KC laps the Loons

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Front three throttle Minnesota United FC

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City pride themselves on being contenders, on their home field being “a fortress.” However, before last Saturday, Sporting Kansas City had gained only three points in four home matches since July 21. The trend was not ideal. So, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over visiting Chicago Fire was a welcomed (and needed) result. Momentum only exists when it is sustained.

And sustained it was. Sporting played rude hosts, overwhelming Minnesota United in a 4-0 win Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park. Kansas City’s front three combined for three goals and three assists on the night, leading Sporting’s rush, and building momentum at home as the MLS stretch-drive beckons.

With primetime striker Alan Pulido out due to injury and midfield spark Gadi Kinda unavailable for observance of Yom Kippur, Peter Vermes rotated his lineup after Saturday’s match and ahead of a 10-day layoff until the next match. In goal was Tim Melia, fronted by a back four of Luis Martins, Andreu Fontas, Ilie, and Graham Zusi (left to right). The midfield trio featured Jose Mauri, Cam Duke, and Roger Espinoza, while the front three went Daniel Salloi, Khiry Shelton, and Team Captain Johnny Russell.

An out-of-sync Sporting possession game enabled Minnesota’s early attacking efforts. Ethan Finley rang the crossbar centrally from 20 yards in the 4th minute, harkening back to Saturday’s contest in which the Fire scorched the bar at least twice.

But it would be Kansas City that would sound their own starting bell. Left back Martins cut a ball into inside space for Salloi in 14th minute. Salloi waited to turn on a ball from Martins before cutting right and unleashing a knuckling drive that Loons goalkeeper Tyler Miller parried forward to Sporting’s Khiry Shelton. Shelton set his feet and struck an authoritative header inside the right post for a 1-0 Sporting lead. The goal meant Sporting had now scored in a club-record 28 straight regular season home matches, the longest active streak in MLS. But a goal does not always mean points.

It would be 18 minutes later, but Shelton nearly doubled up. Espinoza stripped the ball inside Minnesota’s half at the left inside channel and angled in at the defense. The Honduran fed Duke cutting in from the right. Duke touched centrally for Shelton, whose sliding attempt rattled the post to the left of Minnesota’s Miller.

Yet Sporting’s captain was getting restless. Active, but not integral, Russell wanted a scalp. The Scot received deep on the right in the 36th minute, pushed the ball past his man for the end line, and sent a cross to the spot, just behind a running Shelton. Smartly trailing Shelton’s run, Salloi struck a forceful volley that steamed by his marker and Miller and into the net for a 2-0 lead. The goal was Salloi’s team-leading 13th.

In form on the night, Shelton wreaked more havoc in the 43rd minute. Running down a ball from Espinoza, Shelton touched past Miller deep and to the right of the Loons’ goal. The United ‘keeper clipped the continuing Shelton, and Referee Robert Sibiga did not buy it, until the VAR official called him over.

In the subsequent penalty kick, Russell sent Miller left and sent a stinging left-footed shot into the right side of the net for a commanding 3-0 lead. Three points that would vault Sporting over an idle Seattle Sounders (who would have two games in hand) for the top spot in the West seemed certain.

Why not add another? Duke – indefatigable on the night – got on the board in the 52nd minute. Russell skillfully chipped over his defender’s foot for another run to the end line. This time, he spied Duke running near post inside his man. A precise cross and a touch later, Kansas City had a 4-0 lead and the midweek faithful had a night to remember. The goal was Duke’s second of the season and of his career, and Russell’s assist meant he was now one of only two players with 30 goals and 30 assists in the regular season in MLS since 2018. The other being LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

Russell went acrobatic to make it five in the 73rd, nearly nodding home a Zusi cross, stopped only by a sprawling Miller.

Grayson Barber for Salloi (83rd), Wilson Harris (87th) for Shelton, and Jake Davis, making his MLS debut for Espinoza (89th) were Vermes’ substitutions on the evening. an evening that saw Sporting Kansas City run their record at home to 6-0 over the Loons since Minnesota entered MLS in 2017. And better yet, to 13-5-7 in 2021 in front of a nine-match sprint for playoff positioning in the tight Western Conference and a possible CONCACAF Champions League spot.