Sporting Kansas City (4-6-7, 11th place) concluded a five-game road trip in the month of June with a 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake (7-8-2, 8th place) at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.
Liberian international Sam Johnson’s first-half brace lifted the hosts to their third straight home win as both teams – who met in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals – reach the halfway-point of the regular season on the outside of the playoff race.
With the game-time temperature at 89 degrees and playing at 4,500 feet above sea level, Sporting opened on the front foot with Daniel Salloi firing the game’s first shot just 45 seconds after the opening whistle.
Felipe Gutierrez tested Nick Rimando six minutes later with a dipping left-footed shot from 30 yards out that Rimando dove to his right to keep out.
However, it was Real Salt Lake that struck first by capitalizing on the team’s only corner kick of the match in the 15th minute. Albert Rusnak’s service was volleyed back into the mix by Damir Kreilach and flicked toward the goalmouth by Kyle Beckerman, setting up Johnson for a simple finish from close range.
Johnson then scored his second of the night and double Real Salt Lake’s lead in the 29th minute with the final touch of a three-on-one counterattack that began at midfield and culminated with the designated player burying his team-leading seventh goal of the season.
Sporting, playing without designated player Johnny Russell due to injury, came close to cutting the 2-0 deficit in half on the cusp of halftime only to see Gerso Fernandes’ left-footed effort carry inches wide of the post in the 42nd minute.
The uphill climb facing Sporting in the second half would have been steeper if not for superb saves from Tim Melia on three separate occasions.
The former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year first got a glove to turn away Rusnak’s sizzling volley less than a minute after play resumed, then made a point-blank kick save to deny second-half substitute Brooks Lennon in the 73rd minute.
Finally, in the 80th minute, Melia reacted quickly to prevent an own goal from Matt Besler after the Sporting captain deflected a cross coming in from the right flank.
On the opposite end, Salloi recorded Sporting’s first three shots of the second half. Seeking his first goal of the season after winning the team’s Golden Boot award in 2018, the 22-year-old homegrown player had shots blocked and saved in back-to-back minutes early in the half, then sent a left-footed attempt narrowly wide of the post in the 83rd minute.
Sporting Kansas City will now face a quick turnaround with a return to Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday, July 3, for a showdown with MLS Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC.
Tickets are available at SeatGeek.com. There will be a postgame fireworks show.