A team’s big time players are expected to show up in big games. And although Sporting Kansas City’s midweek match at FC Dallas was not a showdown with the two clubs they are battling with at the top of the West, it was a critical win. Left winger Daniel Salloi, The Hungarian Houdini, The Hungarian Assassin, whatever you want to call him, found net twice and fellow money-man right winger Johnny Russell finished a spot kick in a match dominated by a cool and efficient Sporting side.
The number of regular season MLS matches for Sporting Kansas City is getting close to being counted on one hand. When the side is in a tight, three-team fight for the top spot in the Western Conference – and the first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage that goes with it – each match is elevated in significance. Especially when the other two sides, 1st place Seattle Sounders and 3rd place Colorado Rapids, have a match in hand and Kansas City is coming off a 2-1 loss at home to the Sounders.
Thus was the context of Wednesday night’s jaunt down south to FC Dallas for Peter Vermes’ charges. On the season, Sporting has fallen to The Hoops 2-1 at home and taken a 2-0 victory at Toyota Stadium back on August 14. A recent change in manager and no wins since August 29 was the story for the 11th place hosts. Allowing 16 goals in the last seven games – including three goals in four of those – will manifest struggle.
With right back Graham Zusi serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation, Vermes made that change, plus one more, in his starting lineup from Sunday’s loss. Both Cameron Duke and Remi Walter were sprung into the eleven as Roger Espinoza was on the bench. Who would take up at Zusi’s spot would be seen with the whistle.
The whistle saw not only Duke at right back, but FC Dallas in a 3-4-1-2, featuring rising 18-year-old US National Team forward Ricardo Pepi.
By the 6th minute, Kansas City had their third corner of the match. The pattern has been repeated all season for Sporting, 2nd in MLS to New England Revolution in total corners. Yet, nothing on the night thus far, and little on the season, had come of them.
Sporting went Route 1 for their first threat two minutes later. Striker Khiry Shelton latched onto a long ball deflected off Brazilian defender Bressan, split two with a cut back to his left, then laid off for midfielder Gadi Kinda. Kinda’s first touch was poor and the ball was gobbled up by Hoops goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer.
Kinda and fellow midfielders Jose Mauri and Remi Walter operated more or less freely thru Dallas, and they carved out the opening salvo. Walter played square and forward for Kinda, who played wide for left back Martins. As left winger Daniel Salloi came to, Kinda played the Hungarian. Salloi opened his body, touched big past the back leg of the defender, and shortly struck from 21 yards into the upper right corner of Dallas’s net. The goal was Salloi’s 14th of the season and Martins’ third assist.
Route 1 was the mode often for FC Dallas, and they found joy in the 19th minute. Pepi received free near halfway deep into Sporting’s end with only Melia to beat. Pepi did. But the offside flag went up, and VAR confirmed.
Four minutes later, right winger Johnny Russell split two on a counter, then drew a free kick just one yard outside FC Dallas’s box. Russell lasered a shot on goal, forcing Maurer to extend right to block the menacing drive.
The half would end 1-0, with Sporting having the better chances and the stronger offensive impetus. In hope of turnaround, The Hoops changed their shape at the half to a more traditional (for Dallas) 4-2-3-1.
It didn’t work. When left center back Andreu Fontas found a running Shelton in the 52nd minute, Shelton duped a lunging defender before Dallas’s Bryan Acosta bumped Shelton from behind. Shelton took the hit before being felled by an Acosta foot inside the area. The foul meant not only a penalty kick, but a red for Acosta. Russell took the ensuing kick and tucked the ball just under Maurer and inside the right post for a 2-0 lead.
Having found Shelton with a quick route one counter, Sporting went direct again nine minutes on. This time, Mauri fed Salloi. Baiting his defender with touches right as he angled inside, Salloi threw a stepover before banging a left-footed shot upper shelf out of the reach of Maurer. Sporting seemed on the express to three points.
After Grayson Barber entered the pitch for Shelton in the 64th, it was a ten-man Hoops that found net next through Pepi. Pepi was fed over a high Sporting line from a turnover. The starlet hit powerfully to draw the home side within two and within some amount of hope with 22 minutes to go.
However, Sporting saw the game out efficiently, including getting striker Alan Pulido some minutes in a return to the lineup off an injury for Salloi in the 78th minute.
The triumph marked Kansas City’s seventh away win - good for 3rd best in MLS - and kept them firmly in the fight for top honors in the West.
Next up is a home match with Houston Dynamo set for 3:00pm CST Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park.