Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake drew 1-1 at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday. Corey Baird and Ike Opara cancelled each other out, a valuable point for either team, but also somewhat disappointing for each side given separation is key.
The opener came just nine minutes in, as Jefferson Savarino fed such a good ball forward, it left Sporting KC defender Opara so wrong-footed he ended up on his rear end. Baird was there for the calm finish, and RSL had its valuable lead. The visitors are in a vicious playoff battle, currently holding the last playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Still, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is leading an LA Galaxy charge that leaves them just one point back coming into Sunday’s match.
So, with the lead, RSL clammed up. The two teams shared possession, but Sporting KC began to pummel Nick Rimando’s goal. Sporting KC racked up 20 shots during the match, with nearly as many shots on target (6) to RSL’s total efforts on net (8).
Sporting KC would get its equalizer shortly after the halftime break as Johnny Russell swung in the corner and Opara lept high above Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach to meet his head to the ball, powering it past Rimando.
Both sides had opportunities to grasp the victory they would like to have back. Most notably, Krisztián Németh had a glaring miss in the 18th minute for KC, sliding to meet a point-blank cross from Matt Besler but putting it wide of the post.
The point could prove valuable for RSL, especially on the road where RSL has struggled, moving them two ahead LA Galaxy. Still, the full three would have been season-altering, as it would have moved them above Seattle. For Sporting, the win would have moved them into the top spot in the Western Conference, a huge advantage for playoff positioning.
Jay Simpson was a monster from start to finish as the Philadelphia Union took a huge step towards securing a playoff spot by beating Sporting KC 2-0 at home.
Simpson was active early and often, forcing Tim Melia into a point-blank save right on the doorstep one-on-one in just the 10th minute. He took a curling David Maccam ball over the defense but Melia came out of net to smother the attempt.
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In the 36th minute, Melia was put to test again as Borek Dockal smashed a howitzer off a KC defender and against the crossbar, which came back into play and Melia kicked away from net. The rebound came to Simpson, but his effort was weak enough for Seth Sinovic to clear off the line with Melia outstretched on the turf.
As halftime passed without an opener, Simpson was there to provide the eventual breakthrough. A long ball pumped into the box found the head of substitute Alejandro Bedoya under pressure, and the USMNT veteran found Simpson alone near the top of the penalty area. The 29-year-old London product volleyed it into the bottom-left corner for the lead.
Philadelphia held just 38% possession throughout the match, but they matched KC in shots 14-13, 5-6 on target. Simpson would grab a second as the Sporting KC defense again botched the offside trap. Substitute Fabrice Picault floated in a cross, and it fell to Bedoya who beat the back line as the flag stayed down. Bedoya headed it to Simpson also through on net, and he finished off the fingertips of Melia.
The win puts Philadelphia six points clear of the cutoff line,
Sporting KC likes its corps.
Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, and Roger Espinoza have signed new multi-year contracts with the MLS outfit.
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Besler, 31, has appeared in more matches for Sporting than other player in club history, and the 32-year-old Zusi is not too far behind. The latter’s success since being moved to right back under Peter Vermes has been profound.
Coach Peter Vermes isn’t worried about the ages of the quartet. Sanchez is the youngest of the group at 27, but Espinoza is 31 like Besler. From KansasCity.com:
“We think all of them are in their prime,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We just feel they have a lot of years left to give.”
While Besler hasn’t had an exceptionally strong season, the other three have been quite good for third-place KC. Zusi and Sanchez have played every league minute for the club, while Espinoza’s six assists trail only Daniel Salloi (7) on the team.
Sporting have played the fewest matches in the West, and sit four points back of the Western lead with a match-in-hand on LAFC and FC Dallas. They close the season with matches against each.
Caleb Porter is feeling recharged after a season away from soccer, and would be interested in the United States men’s national team job if the federation is interested in hiring him.
The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio spoke with Porter about leaving Portland, his decision to decline the Orlando City job, and the vacant USMNT.
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As for his level of interest, the canny operator only put the thinnest veneer on it. Look no further than his endorsing Peter Vermes, who has signed a new Sporting KC deal since the American job opened up. From The Athletic:
“If you’re going American, Peter Vermes, for me, he is the guy that deserves the shot,” Porter says. “I believe that. That guy deserves to carry the torch of our national team. Peter Vermes, in my opinion, based on what he’s done in our league, he’s proven it as an American coach. If you don’t go with Peter Vermes, I think, based on what I’ve proven, I’m in the mix with another two or three guys who deserve consideration and I’d be open to talking.”
Porter says he doesn’t know what his next job is, though he’s assumed it will be in club soccer, and used some salty language to say there’s only job he wouldn’t take: Portland’s Cascadian rival, the Seattle Sounders.
The club that lands the MLS Cup and NCAA College Cup winner will have a fantastic and inspired coach, but let’s hope that USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart goes in a different direction. Porter may ultimately succeed in such a role, but already carries USSF baggage after failing to lead the U.S. U-23s into the Olympics before he took the Portland job.
There was only one goal in Saturday’s match between Sporting KC and Houston Dynamo, but it may represent something much bigger some day down the line.
Gianluca Busio assisted Diego Rubio’s 74th minute goal, grabbing an assist on the day he became the third-youngest starter in MLS history. Sporting moves six points ahead of the red line with the win, while Houston’s is seven points below it.
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Only Freddy Adu and Alphonso Davies were younger than the 16-years, 68-days old Busio, who also assisted in his USL debut for Swope Park Rangers.
Busio took a pinpoint pass from Graham Zusi and flicked it onto the chest of Rubio, who settled and scored the lone marker.
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes called Busio’s performance Man of the Match level, and the stats didn’t lie, either.