Sporting KC advances to Champions League semifinals

Midfielder Roger Espinoza knocked in a goal off a Johnny Russell cross to make the score 2-0 on Thursday night in a Champions League quarterfinal match at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

by Brian Turrel

Sporting Kansas City won the second leg of its Concacaf Champions Cup quarterfinal match against Panamanian squad Club Atletico Independiente 3-0.

The win gave Sporting a 4-2 aggregate score over CAI and advances Sporting on to the semifinal round in early April.

Sporting was the more aggressive team from the start of the game. In need of at least one goal to have a chance at advancement, Kansas City pressed its attack. The attacking mentality showed up in 13 corner kicks from Johnny Russell, and 26 total shots for the game.

Runs down the right side from Johnny Russell and up the center from Krisztian Nemeth created scoring chances for the home team, but Independiente managed to parry all of Sporting’s attacks through the first 73 minutes. Goalkeeper Jose Guerra made several athletic saves to keep the game scoreless.

Nemeth opened the scoring in the 74th minute by knocking in a ball from six yards that was headed forward to him by defender Botond Barath.

Sporting added two more goals in quick succession, the first in the 81st minute by Roger Espinoza running up the middle and firing in a cross from Johnny Russell.

The final goal came in the 86th minute, again from Nemeth, who got a cross from the left by Gerso and pushed it inside the right goalpost.

The semifinal is the best showing by Sporting KC in its four Champions League appearances. Sporting is the only MLS team remaining in this year’s competition. Kansas City’s opponent in the semifinal will be Club Futbol de Monterrey, a member of Mexico’s Liga MX. The dates for the games have not been announced.

Kansas City will play away against the Colorado Rapids in MLS competition on Sunday, March 17.

Roger Espinoza celebrated after his goal in the 81st minute. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Fans bundled up against the chilling winds and drizzling rain. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Johnny Russell brought the ball into the center after a run down the right side. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Johnny Russell congratulated Krisztian Nemeth after his goal. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Fans in the south stands celebrated after Krisztian Nemeth’s 73rd minute goal. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Krisztian Nemeth took a shot from the right side. He scored two goals in the game. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Gerso Fernandes hurdled CAI goalkeeper Jose Guerra to avoid a collision. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Graham Zusi removed his stocking cap to give it to a fan in the stands. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Sporting KC’s newest midfielder hails from English Premier League

Gedion Zelalem, a 22-year-old midfielder from Arsenal FC in the English Premier League, met soccer fans on Monday night at No Other Pub in Kansas City, Missouri. Zelalem was acquired by Sporting Kansas City in a transfer from Arsenal FC. He signed a contract for the Sporting 2019 season with options for 2020 and 2021. A native of Berlin, Germany, Zelalem moved to the United States with his father in 2006 after three years in the Hertha Berlin Academy. He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Germany. Arsenal loaned him to the Scottish Rangers FC in the 2015-2016 season, then he was loaned to Dutch club VVV Venlo for the second half of the 2016-2017 season. He also has competed for the U.S. Under 20 Men’s National Team. (Photo by William Crum)
  • William Crum

Sporting KC tops Philly on Ilie penalty kick, Melia save

Midfielder Ilie Sanchez (6) fired in a penalty kick to move Sporting KC ahead of Philadelphia 1-0. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)

by Brian Turrel

The weather smiled on Sporting Kansas City’s MLS home opener, and the result did too. SKC posted a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union under sunny skies and light breezes.

Sporting opened the scoring in the 11th minute when Gianluca Busio was taken down in the penalty area. Ilie Sanchez knocked in the penalty kick, directing it confidently to the right past the dive of Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Busio, at age 16, became the youngest player to start a game at Children’s Mercy Park. Head coach Peter Vermes praised the young midfielder after the game.

“He has incredible street smarts in the game,” Vermes said. “He sees things that other guys don’t.”

In spite of the score, Philadelphia controlled possession for most of the first half, roughly dispossessing Sporting KC of the ball on several occasions.

“I don’t think we played well in the first half. I thought we were choppy with the ball,” Vermes said.

Near the end of the half, Philadelphia earned a penalty kick of its own, when referee Chris Penso went to video review to confirm a Seth Sinovic handball. Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia dove low to his right to knock away Marco Fabian’s attempt.

Melia’s save percentage for penalty kicks is double the league average, but after the game, he shared the credit.

“Our team, our coaches, our goalkeeper staff, Ashley Wallce, they do such a good job giving all the goalkeepers so many statistics on all the shooters that it definitely gives us a competitive advantage in the game,” Melia said.

In the 60th minute, Philadelphia’s Marco Fabian was given a red card for spiking Johnny Russell. Graham Zusi’s free kick for the foul bounced off the goal frame, but the man advantage helped Kansas City extend possessions and bring its formation forward for attacks.

Kansas City sealed the game with a Philadelphia own goal in the 80th minute. A cross from the right side from Gerso Fernandes was intended for Kelyn Rowe in the box, but Philadelphia defender Jack Elliott misdirected his block into the net.

Sporting KC will play next in a Concacaf Champions League game on Thursday at home against Panamanian club Independiente la Chorrera at 7 p.m.

Johnny Russell, right, congratulated Gianluca Busio after Busio earned a penalty kick for Sporting KC. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Sporting KC forward Krisztian Nemeth crossed the ball in front of the Philadelphia goal in spite of getting tangled up with defender Jack Elliott. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake grabbed the ball to stop the attacking run of Gianluca Busio. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Philadelphia forward Marco Fabian was sent off with a red card for coming down hard with his spikes on Johnny Russell. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Sporting KC midfielder Kelyn Rowe and Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake were both surprised when Jack Elliott’s block went past them and into the net. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Gianluca Busio got the ball past Andre Blake, but wasn’t able to convert the opportunity. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Ilie Sanchez reacted after his second-half shot sailed wide. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)


Johnny Russell and Gerso Fernandes, front row, center, had some fun with Gianluca Busio, who was making his first start at Children’s Mercy Park. (Photo copyright 2019 by Brian Turrel)