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Near three, near none: Spirited Sporting KC claim a point at Minnesota United

Rotated lineup and 2nd half cameos cap comeback, near three-point grab.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Minnesota United FC Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City’s Johnny Russell changed the match for the guests at Minnesota United’s Allianz Field Wednesday night. The talisman’s goal rightfully gained a point for a Kansas City side that was enterprising on the attack all evening while pushing to get back in the MLS playoff hunt.

Sporting Kansas City gave itself and its fans a glimmer of hope in their journey to possible playoff qualification last weekend with a 2-1 win at Montreal Impact. Wednesday evening at Minnesota United’s Allianz Field, Sporting had yet another opportunity to move upward. Twenty-nine points in the remaining 14 matches may be enough to put Kansas City in seventh place and over the line. Clearly, three points against a Minnesota United side currently in 5th place (but drawn at 27 points with two other sides) would inch them closer. Is it the hope that kills you or the hope that keeps you going?

Manager Peter Vermes put a mostly rested eleven on the pitch for kickoff:

The lineup was short of usuals Tim Melia in goal, Johnny Russell on right wing, and Khiry Shelton at striker. John Pulskamp and Marinos Tzionis gained rare starts, and the formation was listed as a 4-1-4-1 at one point, but translated more to the traditional 4-3-3 with Daniel Salloi at the “false” 9, flanked by Cam Duke on the right and Tzionis on the left. Salloi, Duke, Felipe Hernandez, Kayden Pierre, and Pulskamp represented five homegrowns, a first for a Kansas City starting eleven. They were tasked with shutting down a United attack that has scored three goals in three straight matches, all wins.

Sporting began well. Tzionis dipped and juked his way through right wing pressure in the 7th minute before playing for Walter. Walter fed Salloi who deked left, then touched right to hit back left at United goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair’s right post. However, the attacker spun wide a shot he often buries. That chance was followed in the 10th by a dipping attempt 23 yards out that St. Clair palmed out for an innocuous corner.

Though not all efforts resulted in shots, in 11 minutes, Tzionis and Salloi had been featured parts of more inventive attacks from open play than KC had produced in matches of recent memory.

And another unfolded in 28th minute. Duke began by playing Tzionis at the top of the box. Tzionis squared to Salloi who immediately – and rather beautifully – split the defense for Duke’s penetrating run in the right channel. Yet, St. Clair smothered the chance.

Minnesota had not been without their attacks with three shots, one on goal, as Kansas City’s pressure meant repeated United giveaways. The 44th minute would turn the match in United’s favor, however. Elite playmaker Emmanuel Reynoso chipped well for left back Kemar Lawrence deep in Sporting’s box. Left center back Andreu Fontas looked to clear, yet his effort hit a prone Pulskamp and the ball trickled in for an own goal. Fate had continued its detrimental hold on Sporting Kansas City.

A harrowing escape from a second own goal for the match in the 52nd minute off the boot of Pierre made Kansas City hearts flood with dred. It was followed by a Luis Amarilla header over Isimat-Mirin that steamed just over Sporting’s bar.

Right winger and Designated Player Johnny Russell entered the fray for Rosell in the 57th minute, pushing Walter to the #6 and Duke to one of the #8s in Kansas City’s midfield.

After shedding his defender, Tzionis launched a heavy drive forcing St. Clair into quick hands above his head in the 61st minute. It was not the match leveler hoped for, but a harbinger. For two minutes on, Russell carried up the right wing before playing for Pierre. Pierre touched into the box back for Russell, who was initially upended. But the ball fell kindly, allowing Russell to deposit the ball into the lower far corner to draw Kansas City level.

The drama jumped a few feet more as a United goal in the 66th was rightfully waved off due to an offside.

Khiry Shelton came on to spell Tzionis in the 76th minute and to push the match to three points for the guests.

Yet, Reynoso kept the pressure on Sporting, while Pulskamp kept answering. In the 84th minute, the Argentine shook away Fontas and crossed on a dime for Amarilla. His header was saved well by Pulskamp, who, just after, swatted away a dangerous corner on his doorstep.

Two chances, one each from Russell and Salloi, returned fire for Kansas City as the match wound to three minutes of extra time.

End to end action, including a scrum in front of Sporting’s goal, ended the match at one each and one point (seven in their last three away matches) for Kansas City.