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MLS: Portland Timbers at Sporting Kansas City

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Four on the floor as Sporting Kansas City steamrolls Portland Timbers

An Agada brace (and some goalkeeping magic) help bag win for Kansas City.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty-six years. That is how long it took for a Major League Soccer side to score three goals in three straight first halves on a row. How many would have thought it would be Sporting Kansas City in 2022? One of the lowest scoring teams all season - until recently - lit up guests Portland Timbers in a 4-1 victory at Children’s Mercy Park Sunday night in a Western Conference matchup. Newcomers Willy Agada and Erik Thommy scored three of the four and Andreu Fontas rounded out the scoring for Sporting.

Manager Peter Vermes put out this Starting 11 on Retro night harkening back to the days of the Kansas City Wiz/ards, one of MLS’s original sides:

Why this match mattered

Major League Soccer’s mlssoccer.com began the playoff countdown this week: Which teams can clinch a playoff spot and who can be eliminated? Who can clinch playoffs or be eliminated this weekend (Week 26) | MLSSoccer.com The perhaps surprising news is that Sporting Kansas City is safe for now with seven matches left after tonight. But they are nearing the ledge.

Although they will fight until they make it or cannot (and beyond), a large focus now is finding out which players fit the mold for next season and which player combinations can best execute the plan. The starting eleven, unchanged for the third straight match, reflected a leaning towards keeping playoff hopes alive.

For the visiting Timbers, it is all about the playoffs. With a win, Portland can jump to 5th place, three places above the playoff line. A loss keeps them in 10th and in a bottleneck of six sides within two points of each other.

Decisive actions

Low key

Agada another? In the 16th minute, the ball snuck into Agada behind an overzealous defender. One-on-one with Timbers goalkeeper Aijaz Ivacic, Agada waits and is then forced to pull the ball back then in the face of two defenders. The Nigerian native has lacked the killer instinct in certain situations that makes a striker multiple times more deadly in punishing opponents’ mistakes.

Subs: Felipe Hernandez for Espinoza in the 66th, and Khiry Shelton for Agada and Marinos Tzionis for Russell in the 77th minute. Cam Duke came on for Thommy in the 89th for a late cameo.

The Big ones

Yesssssss… off a Graham Zusi cross in the 31st minute that may or may not have been impacted by KC winger Johnny Russell at the near post and certainly not impacted by a Timbers’ defensive fail, Agada left footed a shot into the net of the roof at the back post over Ivacic. The goal was Agada’s fourth in seven appearances.

Set piece specialist? Sporting’s offensive pressure earned a second corner in the 40th minute. After Zusi hit the ball back into the box off a Portland defender at top of 18, a “Pardon me.” “No, pardon me.” Discussion took place between three Sporting attackers and a defender or two, center back Andreu Fontas decided, ‘Ah, hell, I’ll hit it!” The ball was in the net and Sporting and Fontas had their second goal and Fontas’ second in two matches off a set piece.

You never forget your 1st time Agada, once again, displayed his effective hold up play two minutes later. Shielding the ball while he received, Agada’s position and touch allowed him time to patiently wait, then play, for a coming run from Erik Thommy. Thommy opened his right hip and spun his shot around the keeper and inside the far post. The goal meant Sporting had a three-goal lead and it mean the first time any MLS team had scored three goals in the first half for three matches on a row.

It’s Pulskamp’s party now After center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin got tangled up with the Timbers’ Yimmy Chara and lost possession in the 47th minute, Chara ran onto the ball. Yet, Kansas City netminder John Pulskamp slid hands first to knock away the ball at the top right of his box. Portland maestro Sebastian Blanco then chipped the still loose ball on frame, yet a retreating Pulskamp pushed off to somehow deny the net-bound attempt with a heroic leap. Seconds later, Pulskamp snuffed out another seeming sure goal. And later another. And then another...

What a ball, Ben Left back Ben Sweat had acres of space on the left flank in the 75th minute. With head up vision, the vet took his time and put an inch-perfect ball past a defender and to Agada for a toe-poke finish and another from Agada. 4-0.

Tactical focus

Sporting’s attack and defensive tenacity wreaked havoc with Portland’s game plan and their comradery, apparently anyway. In 15th minute, Blanco and Chara flailed arms, shrugged shoulders, and gesticulated in disagreement.

Although Russell was unsuccessful in multiple attacking runs in the first 20 minutes, Sporting clearly knows what they have in Agada. The middle of the field is Willy-land as Thommy, Salloi, and Sweat interchange often on the left and Russell and Zusi on the right; however, the middle is left open and wide for Agada to roam and find space for himself and to play in others.

Telling stat

Sporting had 59.7% of the possession in the 1st half. Overall, Kanas City’s passing was on at an 87% clip on the night.

Moment of the match

Agada’s opener was critical, as was Fontas’ second. But Kansas City has been up two recently and fallen, twice. Thommy’s sweetly hit third gave the match an entirely different feel.

And these moments...

Man of the match

Willy is the man. And John ain’t bad either.

Going forward

Sporting KC hosts San Jose Earthquakes next Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in further pursuit of the flickering, but still alight, light of the playoffs and in further search of a consistently fruitful 2023.

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