Sporting earns second straight shutout win with 3-0 road victory at Vancouver

Sporting Kansas City (6-7-7, 25 points) secured a second straight shutout and second straight victory with a 3-0 road win over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4-9-8, 20 points) on Saturday at BC Place in Canada.

Gerso Fernandes gave Sporting the lead in the first half and capped off the scoring with a goal in the 90th minute, in addition to assisting Felipe Gutierrez’s team-leading eighth goal of the season.

Tim Melia recorded a season-high six saves for the 58th win, breaking a tie with Jimmy Nielsen for the most by a goalkeeper in club history, and 43rd shutout of his MLS career – all coming with Sporting since joining the club in 2015.

Melia anchored a starting lineup on Saturday that was unchanged from Sporting’s 1-0 win against the Chicago Fire last weekend as Peter Vermes enjoyed the luxury of fielding the same starting lineup for back-to-back MLS matches for the first time during an injury-riddled 2019 season.

That meant the backline of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Botond Barath and Seth Sinovic once again started together, earning their fourth clean sheet in five regular season matches as a defensive unit.

Sporting controlled more than 60 percent of the possession in the first half and applied ample pressure before the breakthrough goal came in the 24th minute.

Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Zac MacMath did well to push away Graham Zusi’s curling free kick in the 13th minute and was well positioned to keep out Daniel Salloi’s shot five minutes later, but was finally beaten on a shot from Fernandes that deflected off the foot of Ali Adnan and was officially ruled an own goal.

With Sporting in search of a second and Vancouver pushing forward to equalize, both sides would create chances on either side of halftime.

Sporting came close to doubling the lead in the 39th minute as Yohan Croizet’s well-struck volley was re-directed by Salloi from close range only to end up straight at MacMath, while Melia made his best save of the night to turn away Inbeom Hwang’s free kick in the 48th minute and moments later watched 19-year-old Homegrown forward Theo Bair’s shot miss narrowly wide of the post.

As the game opened up, Fernandes nearly put his name on the scoresheet in the 52nd minute if not for a superb kick save from MacMath and then tallied an assist minutes afterward on a night in which he completed 37 of 38 passes, including 30 of 30 in the attacking half of the field.

Fernandes beat his defender and laid the ball off to Gutierrez on his left, leaving the rest to the Chilean international to take a single touch forward before unleashing a low blast from 25 yards out that bulged the back of the net.

Gutierrez now has eight goals on the campaign, which is the most of any midfielder in MLS and seventh most among all players, in addition to logging six chances created on Saturday, most by any Sporting player in a match this season.

Despite a close call when Yordy Reyna’s free kick rattled the post in the 76th minute, Sporting continued to threaten for a third goal over the course of the final 30 minutes.

MacMath was forced into tipping Ilie’s dipping effort over the bar and produced a one-on-one stop on Salloi before Fernandes put the exclamation point on an emphatic performance with a much-deserved goal in the 90th minute.

Second-half substitutes Johnny Russell and Krisztian Nemeth linked up as Nemeth cut the ball through a crowded goalmouth to find Fernandes at the back post for a first-time finish with his left foot.

The victory was Sporting’s 30th against Canadian opposition in the regular season and 12th on Canadian soil – both of which are most among all American MLS teams – but most importantly moves Sporting within four points of a playoff position currently held by seventh-place FC Dallas ahead of next Saturday’s clash between the two MLS charter clubs at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets are available online at SeatGeek.com and fans are encouraged to arrive early for the induction of Josh Wolff into the Sporting Legends hall of honor during the pre-game festivities.

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Sporting KC visits Vancouver tonight

A pair of Western Conference clubs will lock horns for the second time this season as Sporting Kansas City (5-7-7, 22 points) ventures northwest to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4-8-8, 20 points) on Saturday night at BC Place.

Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. with three hours of live coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO. The game will also be joined in progress on the main FOX Sports Kansas City channel upon the conclusion of Kansas City Royals baseball. Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM will carry local radio broadcasts, while fans can access the Sporting KC App for additional in-game updates.

Currently occupying 10th place in the Western Conference table, Sporting secured a vital 1-0 home win over the Chicago Fire last weekend thanks to an early goal from Frenchman Yohan Croizet.

Manager Peter Vermes’ side dominated from start to finish en route to the club’s third MLS shutout of 2019, also giving Tim Melia his 57th regular season goalkeeping win to tie Jimmy Nielsen for the most in team history.

The victory against Chicago saw the likes of Johnny Russell and Graham Zusi return to the field after missing time through injury.

Indeed, ailments to numerous players have plagued Sporting throughout the 2019 campaign, but the club enters Saturday with just four names on the injury report. Influential midfielder Roger Espinoza (knee) and forward Erik Hurtado (knee) have been upgraded to questionable, while Jaylin Lindsey (knee) remains out alongside Rodney Wallace (hip), who will miss the rest of the season.

On the opposite sideline, Vancouver will be just three days removed from a scoreless draw at Canadian Premier League outfit Cavalry FC in the first leg of the Canadian Championship third qualifying round.

First-year Vancouver head coach Marc Dos Santos-who previously led the Swope Park Rangers to a USL Western Conference championship in 2016-fielded a full-strength lineup for the match, sticking to his pre-game declarations of treating the domestic cup competition with high priority.

Dos Santos helped Vancouver navigate the springtime successfully, as his team went 4-2-3 from April 17 to May 25. Whitecaps FC have hit a rough patch since then, taking just three points and zero wins from their last five league fixtures.

Last Saturday marked a low point as Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC put Vancouver to the sword with a 6-1 thrashing at Banc of California Stadium. Talented playmaker Yordy Reyna bagged the visitors’ lone goal of the game, his fourth tally in 2019, to move within two goals of team scoring leader Fredy Montero.

Sporting and Vancouver previously met on May 18 at Children’s Mercy Park. Krisztian Nemeth-currently tied for the Sporting lead alongside Russell and Felipe Gutierrez with seven MLS goals-fired the hosts ahead in the 37th minute with a close-range finish that remains his most recent goal in 2019.

The Hungarian was sent off early in the second half for a red card offense, however, and Whitecaps FC salvaged an unlikely equalizer in the 94th minute courtesy of defender Derek Cornelius.

History nevertheless paints a positive picture for Sporting, who own a 3-2-2 record at Vancouver and an 8-3-4 mark in the all-time regular season series. Moreover, Sporting’s 29 regular season wins versus Canadian opposition are the most among American MLS teams.

Vermes’ men last visited BC Place in October 2018, erasing a 1-0 halftime deficit behind a brilliant Croizet strike, a Daniel Salloi brace and a stoppage time tally from Gianluca Busio, who in that match became the second-youngest scorer in MLS history at 16 years old.

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Sporting KC burns Chicago, 1-0

KC forward Yohan Croizet outraced defender Bastian Schweinsteiger to launch his game-winning shot in the 14th minute of Sporting KC’s Saturday night win against the Chicago Fire. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)
 

by Brian Turrel

Yohan Croizet scored Sporting Kansas City’s only goal for the second straight game, but this time the defense made it stand up, giving Sporting a 1-0 home win against the Chicago Fire on Saturday night.

Sporting got on the board in the 14th minute when Felipe Gutierrez stole the ball on Kansas City’s end of the field and launched a long, accurate pass forward into the path of Croizet, streaking toward the goal.

Chicago goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm came out to the edge of the penalty area to challenge Croizet, but not quickly enough to prevent him from slotting the ball inside the left post.

“I just tried my chance, and I scored,” said Croizet after the game. “Good for me and good for the team.”

Sporting had several opportunities to build on its lead in the remainder of the game. Daniel Salloi had a shot bounce just wide in the first half, and another narrowly blocked in the second half. Also in the second half, Felipe Gutierrez had a rebound fall at his feet near the edge of the 6-yard box, but hit the goalpost on his attempt.

Besides the result, Sporting found two other bright spots in the game. The first was the return of forward Johnny Russell, back from missing several games with a hamstring injury to come on as a substitute in the 70th minute.

The other bright spot was the play of midfielder Gedion Zelalem, making his first start at Children’s Mercy Park. Zelalem was successful at advancing the ball up the left side and finding Salloi and Gutierrez in open space on the attacking end.

“I started against Salt Lake, and I thought I was just playing it too safe, and that’s not me,” said Zelalem. “I’m a guy that takes risks to play forward. Just learning from that game and me confident in myself. Just going for it.”

Sporting KC will head to Vancouver for their next match on July 13. Their next home game will be on July 20 at 7:30 p.m. against Real Salt Lake.

KC forward Daniel Salloi struck a shot in the second half that bounced just wide of the goalpost. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

TV weatherman Gary Lezak celebrated Croizet’s goal from the Cauldron fan area. Lezak also led the crowd in cheers at the start of the game. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Kansas City blues artist Danielle Nicole sang the national anthem as the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department presented the colors. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Fans in the south end stands celebrated after the final whistle. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Gerso Fernandes reacted after a cluster of Sporting KC shots in the second half failed to produce a second goal. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Chicago goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm plucked the ball out of the air to end a Sporting KC attacking run. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Defender Botond Barath headed the ball back toward Chicago’s end. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

KC forward Gerso Fernandes made a move to get around Chicago defender Francisco Calvo. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Defender Francisco Calvo tried to block a shot from forward Johan Croizet. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

 

Felipe Gutierrez and Fabian Herbers clashed on a header near midfield. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)