Sporting KC's return home on Saturday night also saw the return of Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell to the starting XI from injury and Shelton on the bench. So with a near full-strength starting XI, they took the field.
The game was always going to be a tough test for the 12th place SKC side to beat 2nd place Real Salt Lake, but they rose to the occasion.
Salloi got an early look at right around the minute mark, which set the tone for the open nature of the first part of the match, including a huge save by Melia in the 5th minute.
The first 15 minutes of the game were highly chippy with both teams coming into tackles hard. Loeffelsend was forced to bring down a streaking Salloi in the 7th minute earning him a yellow card following a cleared RSL corner kick.
SKC began to control the game midway through the first half, finding possession and chances. Including a good opportunity for Salloi in the 28th minute, who waited too long and the shot was closed down. Andrew Brody would get a yellow for time wasting following the play.
Against the run of play, RSL very nearly pulled ahead in the 30th minute with a ball over the top that put RSL in 2-on-1. However, Sergio Cordova was too slow to play the pass, and Andreu Fontas cleared the ball at the last second.
Roger Espinoza picked up a yellow in the 40th minute for a tackle that was a bit too hard. RSL would find a golden opportunity off the restart. The long ball into the box was deflected off Zusi directly to an RSL player's feet at the edge of the six-yard box. Only another great Melia save kept the score 0-0.
In the first half extra time, Ben Sweat came in hard and late on Caldwell, earning himself a yellow card. The first half would end with SKC having 64% possession, but RSL having had the better chances.
SKC came out looking hungry at the beginning of the second half. Espinoza unleashed an excellent curling shot from out the box, forcing MacMath into a diving save. The rebound was barely cleared before a lurking Salloi could get to it.
Remi Walter would pick up a yellow in the 51' for a tactical foul against Menendez.
Hernandez had a 1v1 with MacMath in the 55th minute that only an excellent MacMath save kept the hosts from going ahead (and possibly the offside flag).
New man Nikola Vujnovic nearly bagged a goal in the 60th minute after a fast give and go with Hernandez that MacMath once again saved. That would be his last significant action of the night as he was replaced by Khiry Shelton one minute later.
RSL also got some dangerous chances that were just barely off-target as the second half continued.
Cam Duke replaced Felipe Hernandez in the 73rd minute.
SKC continued to apply the pressure and were rewarded when Russell found the back of the net from the center of the box off of a neat dribble and a lucky bounce in the 81st minute.
Russell would give way to Kortne Ford in the 85th minute as SKC switched to a back five to try to close out the game.
Damir Kreilach, who is arguably RSL's most dangerous player, came on in the 87th minute to try to claw back a goal for the visitors in his return from injury.
A final nervy moment came when Duke got a yellow card for foul just outside the box. Kreilach's free-kick ultimately did not have the bend to get back down, flying harmlessly over the bar.
On a different note, the announcers were terrible for anyone who, like me, watched on the TUDN stream! They routinely were miscalling plays and saying factually incorrect things about the game. Like "that was the first yellow given," nope, it was the third. Or "that was the first sub for either side" nope, RSL subbed at halftime. On top of that, they were constantly mispronouncing names from both teams. That is not a good look for MLS.
SKC will now take the road to play the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas, Ben Sweat, Remi Walter, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Hernandez (73' — Cameron Duke), Johnny Russell (85' — Kortne Ford), Nikola Vujnovic (62' — Khiry Shelton), Daniel Salloi
Subs Not Used: Kendall McIntosh, Kayden Pierre, Kaveh Rad, Robert Voloder, Jake Davis, Ozzie Cisneros
Real Salt Lake: Zac MacMath, Erik Holt (46’ — Jaziel Orozco), Jasper Loeffelsend (88’ — Christopher Garcia), Marcelo Silva, Andrew Brody, Pablo Ruiz, Scott Caldwell (62’ — Everton Luiz), Tate Schmitt, Maikel Chang (79’ — Rubio Rubin), Jonathan Menendez (88’ — Damir Kreilach), Sergio Cordova
Subs Not Used: Bode Davis, Johan Kappelhof, Tomas Gomez
SKC — 81' J. Russell, Unassisted
RSL — 7’ J. Loeffelsend, Foul
RSL — 29’ A. Brody, Dissent
SKC — 40’ R. Espinoza, Foul
SKC — 45+1' B. Sweat, Foul
SKC — 51’ R. Walter, Foul
SKC — 90+2’ C. Duke, Foul