By: Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1
Sporting Kansas City vs. San Jose Earthquakes
FT: 3(3) – 3(0)
Penalty shootouts are kind of our thing!
After a mind-blowing display of talent, Tim Melia saved three consecutive penalty kicks in a decisive shootout to launch Sporting Kansas City into the next round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Manager Peter Vermes fielded a mix of academy players and veterans to lead the home side in an intense match packed with set pieces on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
Even though the Quakes dominated possession for most of the night, Roger Espinoza set the tone early for SKC, scoring the opening goal in the 4th minute after flicking the header off Johnny Russell’s corner past goalkeeper James Marcinkowski.
San Jose’s Cristian Espinoza was a key component for their first two goals, starting with Carlos Fierro’s equalizer in the 22nd minute. Twelve minutes later, Espinoza and Fierro combined to pick out Shea Salinas near the penalty spot, who then sent a right-footed shot home to give the Quakes the 2-1 lead before the half.
Two minutes after the restart, Sporting KC cashed in on yet another set-piece. This time Ilie Sanchez found the equalizer with a near-post flick off of Gianluca Busio’s corner to draw the match back level.
Busio, the 19-year-old homegrown, bagged what appeared to be a 91st-minute game winner after he latched onto a back-heel flick from Khiry Shelton at the near post and sent in a right-footed blast to give the home side a 3-2 advantage.
However, MLS all-time goals king Chris Wondolowksi cut celebrations short in the 97th minute, scoring a controversial equalizer (SKC’s cries of offside were waved off) deep into stoppage time to send the match into extra time.
The half-hour block saw Matías Almeyda make two substitutions who made an immediate impact. The first real chance came in the 99th minute when Cristian Espinoza made a run clear down to Sporting KC’s goal, but his shot went wide.
After exchanging possession for the next couple of minutes, the Quakes got another scoring opportunity in the 113th minute. However, Melia saved Cade Cowell’s tight angled shot in the center of the net. Now with two extra time periods under their belt and no winning goals – it was crunch time.
Sporting KC successfully converted their first three attempts while Melia consecutively denied Oswaldo Alanis, Jackson Yueill, and Cristian Espinoza to end the shootout in just three rounds. The 34-year-old veteran is the first MLS keeper to shut out an opponent in a (modern) penalty shootout in playoff history.
The club will go on to host friendliest rival Minnesota United on December 1st or 2nd (TBD) for a Western Conference semifinal at Children’s Mercy Park.
Featured Image: @SportingKC
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