by Brian Turrel
Sporting KC finished off Real Salt Lake on Sunday afternoon in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal match, outscoring Salt Lake 4-2. Sporting won the match 5-3 on aggregate goals, but endured an excruciating second half to earn the victory.
Kansas City started the second half with a 2-0 lead and plenty of momentum from a strong first half, but twice gave up goals that brought RSL within one. Because of the two-leg aggregate format, a 2-2 or 3-3 draw would have advanced Salt Lake over Kansas City to the conference finals against Portland.
With a potential equalizer in sight, Salt Lake threw its offense forward, and prevented Kansas City from keeping possession and running out the game clock. Throughout the last half hour, and most intensely from the 80th minute on, Salt Lake strained the Kansas City defense, coming away with several near-misses, but no game-tying score.
In the seventh minute of stoppage time, KC forward Daniel Salloi broke loose for the game’s last goal, and the referee’s final whistle sounded, drowned out by the roar of the celebrating crowd.
Diego Rubio picked up the game’s first goal in the 14th minute, assisted by Johnny Russell and Felipe Gutierrez. Salloi followed on five minutes later, with Gutierrez again on the assist. Kansas City kept the pressure on through the remainder of the half, and as head coach Peter Vermes put it, “We could have easily went three or four goals still without them even scoring one.”
Salt Lake’s Sebastian Saucedo scored in the 60th minute to make the score 2-1. Kansas City re-established its margin on a penalty kick by Ilie Sanchez, earned when Diego Rubio was brought down on a run near the Salt Lake goal.
Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando tried to disrupt Sanchez by telling him to “make sure you go in one side or the other.” Sanchez placed the ball squarely in the middle of the goal for the score.
After the game, Sanchez talked about the kick as redemption for a miss earlier in the season. He said, “I came from Dallas when I missed that PK. It was right in front our fans that traveled that night, and it was in that corner, and I was so sorry for them. I’m just happy that I could do it tonight and everybody was able to enjoy it.”
The MLS playoffs will take a two-week hiatus to allow for players in international competition, including SKC forward Johnny Russell for Scotland. Sporting KC will face off with the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference final. The first leg will take place in Portland at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 25. The second leg will be at Children’s Mercy Park at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 29.