By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City secured their spot in the MLS is Back Knockout Stage after serving up a 2-0 victory over long-time rivals Real Salt Lake this morning at the ESPN Wide World Sports Complex.
Historically speaking, these teams are no strangers and the fiery rivalry was alive and well in Sporting’s first-ever early morning match. With some slight changes to the lineup, a few youngsters got their chance to shine. Gianluca Busio earned his first start of the 2020 campaign and SKC Academy product Felipe Hernandez entered for veteran Roger Espinoza in the 58th minute. Both of them had solid performances. On the RSL side, 19-year-old designated player, Jeizon Ramirez, who joined the club in February, made his debut.
Sporting KC got off to a roaring start after Johnny Russell gave both sides a wakeup call just 51 seconds into the match with an early goal. He pounced on a loose ball after RSL failed to clear it off a free kick from Gianluca Busio. The Scotsman’s banger was the fourth earliest in team history.
Soon yellow cards were flying. The match saw seven cautions overall with Sporting KC receiving three and the remaining four given to Real Salt Lake.
Back in goal after serving his red card suspension, Tim Melia came up huge in the 30th minute to deny Damir Kreilach a scoring opportunity. Aaron Herrera sent the cross to the 31-year-old midfielder who then redirected it down the middle over Graham Smith, straight into Melia’s arms.
Alan Pulido had a chance on goal but his round kick went into MacMath’s waiting arms. However, if the goal was made, he certainly would have been called offside. Russell’s early goal sent Sporting KC into the half ahead.
Even though RSL controlled the match holding 58.2% possession – a composed Sporting KC continued to press. Goalkeeper Zac MacMath was forced into action in the 51st minute when he raced off his line to prevent Busio’s clever through ball from finding Khiry Shelton on the left side of the box.
Ten minutes later, Hernandez beat his marker along the right wing and advanced goalward before whipping in a low cross that deflected high into the air. Pulido caught it cleanly with a volley that was blocked by Holt through traffic, much to the relief of a retreating RSL defense.
In the 67th minute, Manager Peter Vermes put in fresh legs for the SKC side with Gadi Kinda and Amadou Dia entering for Busio and Luis Martins. Zusi found Shelton behind RSL’s backline but he was tripped by MacMath. No review was conducted of the play and the match carried on.
Vermes made his two final substitutions in the 84′, sending in Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes for Khiry Shelton and Johnny Russell. Gerso immediately made an impact, scoring Sporting KC’s insurance goal in the 86th minute and booking their ticket to the knockout round.
Sporting KC continued the search for their third goal with Pulido taking a shot just minutes after Ilie tried a through ball, but the Mexican striker was caught offside.
Sporting KC advances to the knockout stage and will either finish first or second in the group depending on tonight’s match between the Colorado Rapids and Minnesota United.
Featured Image: Jared Martinez
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