Four shutouts in their last six matches. That is Sporting Kansas City going old style. And if it helps keep a rival out of the playoffs, all the better. Combined with Willy Agada’s eighth marker of the season, the shutout propelled Sporting to a 1-0 win Sunday afternoon in the penultimate match of their 2022 Major League Soccer campaign.
For their last home match of the 2022 MLS season, Sporting Kansas City (10-15-7) hosts Seattle Sounders (12-16-4) at Children’s Mercy Park in a Sunday late afternoon tilt. A sub-standard season diminished the significance of the match, but the probable impact and the opponent gives the occasion great weight.
Why this match matters
Since the beginning of August, Kansas City has more points per match (2.12) and the highest winning percentage (.750) in the Western Conference. Additionally, their scoring clip of 2.63 goals per game ranks second in MLS in that time period. Not only will Sporting hope to close the 2022 home season on the up and continue their perfect run at home, but each player is fighting to earn time on the pitch and/or a roster spot for next season. But there is more.
The guest Sounders are desperate for three points as they sit five points back of the playoff line with only two matches left. Though Seattle took the latest matchup 3-0 in Seattle on June 25, Sporting has won four of the last six meetings dating back to 2019. The other negative trend for the CONCACAF Champions League winners is their record of only 11 points in 16 road matches. But there is more.
The intense and sometimes contentious Kansas City v Seattle rivalry will add a new chapter. Seattle has never missed the playoffs since joining MLS. Sporting would love to knock them from their perch.
To those ends, Sporting Manager Peter Vermes filled out the starting eleven like this:
The only change from recent lineup cards is the insertion of veteran Graham Zusi at right back. The Sporting legend-to-be missed the last four matches due to a nagging quad injury.
Sweat saves: Sweat became savior in the 25th minute as he poked away a shot while covering the left side of Sporting goalkeeper John Pulskamp’s goal on a shot from a cutback pass from the right.
Willy will take your breath away: Moments later, Sporting nearly went up one again as Agada bodied a cross from Russell on frame. Frei made the initial save; then Agada slammed the rebound into the veteran’s chest from close range. Frei needed a moment afterwards.
Ready Fredy? Halftime Seattle substitute Fredy Montero spun around Isimat-Mirin into free space inside the top of the box in the 54th minute. With only Pulskamp to beat, Montero rolled a weak shot outside the right post.
Substitutes: Felipe Hernandez entered for midfielder Roger Espinoza in the 66th minute. Twelve minutes later, center back Kortne Ford came on for Thommy and Kayden Pierre for Zusi. Khiry Shelton made a cameo in for Russell in extra time.
Montero’s bid: Montero forced Pulskamp into swatting away an attempt that threatened to float over the goalkeeper’s head and level the match in the 69th minute. It was a bold and tricky try from the Colombian.
The Big ones
Pokémon for the breakthrough... Salloi broke loose in the 41st minute on the left wing and crossed for Agada. The Nigerian took the floating ball down with his left and raced to poke the ball home just in front of a coming defender and then under Frei’s left arm. Agada, who struggled early in the half, came on as the half progressed. The goal put Agada at eight on the season in 11 matches and brought him level with Russell for the team lead.
Sporting attacked out of 3-1-4-2 formation early on with Remi Walter in front of a back three of Graham Zusi, Nicholas Isimat-Mirin, and Andreu Fontas (right to left). Daniel Salloi pushed high on the left and striker Willy Agada high centrally.
Throughout the first half, Seattle found space on the right wing, where left back Ben Sweat and left center back Fontas were kept busy. Walter was forced into covering Sweat in multiple moments while Sweat pressured out wide. To his credit, Sweat often barked at the midfield to mark in space and keep their shape.
Make no mistake, however, this match was trench warfare. Sporting’s heat map was red hot through the middle of the field, even out to the wings at midfield.
Coming into this match, Seattle had suffered 14 losses by a single goal, four more than any other team this season.
Moment of the match
We see you, Willy. And... Sweat’s intervention while prone on the pitch in the 90th minute was another possible match saver. He doesn’t get a touch on that, the nearby Seattle player has a lot of net on which to shoot.
Man of the match
In a match as well played - save for little moments - as it was from front to back, the team gets the cred here. Winning builds unity, but working together and communicating for the team’s betterment keeps that winning going.
This will suffice for 2023:
For their 2022 finale, Sporting KC will land in Dallas next Sunday to take on the 3rd place Hoops.