With win over Orlando, Sporting KC moves up to second in conference

Sporting Kansas City (14-7-6, 48 points) claimed a 1-0 victory over Orlando City SC (7-17-3, 24 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, to move within a point of first place in the Western Conference.

Midfielder Felipe Gutierrez bagged the game-winner in the 53rd minute, his sixth goal of the season and his first since March 31, as Sporting KC leapfrogged Los Angeles Football Club for second place in the West and closed the gap on leaders FC Dallas.

Goalkeeper Tim Melia posted his MLS-leading 12th shutout of 2018 and the 38th of his regular season career, taking sole possession of second-most in Sporting KC history.

Manager Peter Vermes flexed his depth on Saturday as three Sporting KC forwards – Diego Rubio, Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi – were unavailable on international duty and defender Ike Opara was sidelined due to caution accumulation.

That paved the way for Spanish center back Andreu Fontas to make a strong MLS debut alongside Matt Besler, who notably logged his 250th regular-season appearance.

In attack, center forward Krisztian Nemeth earned his first start since returning to the club last month, while the active Yohan Croizet occupied the wing opposite of Gerso Fernandes.

Nemeth was on the receiving end of Sporting KC’s first opportunity in the fifth minute, but Orlando defender Carlos Ascues applied the slightest of touches on Croizet’s in-swinging cross to prevent the Hungarian forward from striking the ball cleanly.

The Lions immediately responded with a massive chance of their own as former Sporting KC striker Dom Dwyer – making his first return to Children’s Mercy Park since leaving the club in a trade last summer – raced onto a long ball over the top and forced Melia into a splendid one-on-one save.

The sides traded another pair of close shaves near the hour mark. Slick ball movement from the hosts saw Roger Espinoza settle an Ilie Sanchez pass and pick out Nemeth, whose side-footer was smothered by Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik. At the opposite end, Dwyer won a free kick and curled his ensuing attempt narrowly over the woodwork.

Gutierrez effectively decided the contest eight minutes after the restart. Croizet squared up his defender on the right side of the box and played centrally to Gutierrez, who fired low into the left corner from the top of the box to ignite joyous celebrations across Children’s Mercy Park.

Orlando entered the weekend with the worst defensive record in MLS and just a single shutout all year, and Sporting KC almost doubled its advantage on 58 minutes when Ilie nodded marginally over the bar off a Graham Zusi free kick.

Two of Melia’s three saves came off the foot of Dwyer, and the Sporting KC gloveman stopped his former teammate again in the 60th minute. Dwyer chased a Cristian Higuita through ball and pulled the trigger from a tight angle, but Melia produced a fine stop to preserve the clean sheet and keep his side in front.

Vermes’ men threatened on three occasions over the final quarter-hour. Nemeth did brilliantly to gain separation off a Fernandes feed and test Bendik with a stinging strike that was palmed aside, shortly before Gutierrez dragged a shot just wide from the same spot he scored. Espinoza then created a turnover and spread the ball right to Croizet, whose thunderous effort was parried away by Bendik.

Winners of five of the last six games, Sporting KC will return to action next Saturday to visit Western Conference cellar dwellers San Jose Earthquakes (4-15-8, 20 points) at 9:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.
– Story from Sporting KC

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Sporting KC plays Orlando Saturday in KCK

Four points out of first place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City (13-7-6, 45 points) returns home on Saturday to play host to Orlando City SC (7-16-3, 24 points) at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and tickets remain available via SeatGeek.com as Sporting KC continues its playoff push.

FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus will air three hours of live coverage on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m., while listeners can follow the action live on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish).

The interconference clash will stream live on FOX Sports GO for viewers on FOX Sports Midwest and on ESPN+ elsewhere across the U.S. The Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide additional in-game updates.

Supporters in attendance on Saturday will join Sporting KC to celebrate the life of Ron Newman, the club’s first head coach who died Aug. 27 at age 84.

Newman led Kansas City for over three seasons from 1996 to 1999, racking up 50 regular season wins at the helm. To honor that milestone and his lasting legacy as a soccer pioneer in America, fans are encouraged to participate in a moment of applause during the 50th minute of Saturday’s contest.

Sporting KC saw a four-game winning and shutout streak snapped in a 3-1 defeat at Seattle Sounders FC last weekend.

Forward Diego Rubio continued his brilliant run of form in the losing effort, tallying his fifth goal in as many games to give the visitors an early lead.

Rubio, who has joined the Chile Men’s National Team for a friendly at South Korea on Tuesday, will be one of three Sporting KC forwards absent this weekend due to international commitments.

Scotland winger Johnny Russell and Hungary winger Daniel Salloi have gone to Europe for the start of the inaugural UEFA Nations League.

With defender Ike Opara also sidelined because of caution accumulation, manager Peter Vermes will flex his squad’s depth on Saturday.

Recently acquired forward Krisztian Nemeth and Frenchman Yohan Croizet are in contention to feature up top, while freshly minted center back Andreu Fontas could make his MLS debut after spending the previous decade competing in his native Spain.

Striker Khiry Shelton is also available, having worked his way back from a knee injury that has kept him out since early July.

Currently occupying third place in the Western Conference, Sporting KC is four points behind leaders FC Dallas and a point behind LAFC.

Vermes’ men have a game in hand on both teams, however, and with FC Dallas and LAFC on byes this weekend, Sporting KC could jump to second with a victory.

Orlando languishes in 10th place in the East and appears set to miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year since joining MLS in 2015.

The Lions scrapped to a 2-2 home draw last weekend against the Philadelphia Union, receiving a ninth-minute goal from Dom Dwyer before falling behind 2-1 in the late stages.

Center back Scott Sutter salvaged a point for the hosts with a 91st-minute leveler, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Orlando’s winless drought from hitting seven games.

Saturday’s matchup will see two familiar faces return to Children’s Mercy Park.

At the forefront is Dwyer, whose 67 goals in a Sporting KC uniform are second-most in club history. Dwyer led the Kansas City frontline from his breakout season in 2014 until he was traded to Orlando last summer in exchange for allocation money.

The Englishman has been one of the lone bright spots for Orlando in 2018, leading the side with 12 goals in 19 league appearances.

Another former Sporting KC player set to return in Orlando purple is midfielder Uri Rosell. The Spaniard played 57 games under manager Peter Vermes from 2012-2014 before landing a transfer to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. Rosell came back to MLS this year and has started 12 of 16 MLS matches for Orlando.

The Lions began the 2018 campaign brightly, rattling off six straight wins from April to May for a 6-2-1 start, but a nine-game losing skid followed to mark the end of Jason Kreis’ tenure as head coach.

Former Louisville City FC boss James O’Connor took over on June 29, but results have remained elusive for the Florida outfit. Orlando has conceded 61 goals and lost 16 matches, both the most in MLS this season, and own a 1-14-2 record since May 13.

The club has just one clean sheet to show from 26 league games and has lost nine straight away matches.

Sporting KC and Orlando have met on three previous occasions in the MLS regular season, splitting the series with one win and one draw each.

The Lions claimed a 3-1 home victory in the inaugural meeting three years ago despite Nemeth scoring his 13th of 16 goals that year for Sporting KC.

Orlando’s first trip to Children’s Mercy Park came on May 15, 2016.

Sporting KC dominated proceedings en route to a club-record 34 shot attempts, but found themselves trailing 1-0 until Dwyer and Jacob Peterson bagged late goals to secure a 2-1 triumph. The sides most recently met in May 2017 in Orlando, tying 2-2 as a Latif Blessing brace canceled out strikes from Kaka and Cyle Larin.
– Story from Sporting KC

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Sporting KC signs four players to new contracts

Sporting Kansas City announced Tuesday that the club has signed four MLS All-Stars to new, multi-year contracts: defender Matt Besler, midfielder Roger Espinoza, midfielder Ilie Sanchez and defender Graham Zusi.

Besler, Espinoza, Ilie and Zusi have all contributed to Sporting Kansas City’s most successful era in club history, highlighted by four major championships since 2012 and a team-record seven-year playoff streak.

“These players have consistently performed at a high level and helped the club achieve tremendous success,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “Their winning mentality, work ethic, team-first attitude and all of the contributions they make outside of the soccer field in the community are integral to our strong culture, and we are excited to continue our pursuit of all of our goals with them in Kansas City.”

Besler, 31, is Sporting KC’s all-time leader in appearances (293), starts (285) and minutes played (25,805) across all competitions. The 10-year veteran is a five-time MLS All-Star (2011, 2013-16), a two-time MLS Best XI selection (2012-13) and was named the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year. Besler has helped Sporting KC secure four major trophies this decade, including the 2013 MLS Cup and three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

A native of Overland Park, Kansas, Besler joined his hometown club in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Notre Dame. He has contributed to 86 regular-season shutouts over the last 10 years, more than any other MLS defender. The center back has also earned 47 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team since 2013, winning Concacaf Gold Cup titles in 2013 and 2017 and starting all four matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Espinoza has totaled 247 competitive appearances across two separate stints with Sporting KC – seventh-most in club history – with six goals and 35 assists. The 2008 MLS SuperDraft selection and Ohio State University product has represented no other MLS club during his 11-year professional career. He was named an MLS All-Star in 2012, the same year he helped guide the team to the U.S. Open Cup title and its best-ever regular-season record, before signing with English Premier League side Wigan Athletic in 2013. While in England, he helped Wigan to a historic upset against Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup Final, playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 win. Espinoza returned to Sporting KC in 2015 and has been a pivotal midfield contributor ever since, starting all 103 of his MLS appearances over the last four seasons.

On the international level, Espinoza has represented Honduras at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics. He has earned 52 caps for Los Catrachos since 2009, bagging four goals, and made five career World Cup starts. The 31-year-old is currently enjoying one of his best professional seasons with a career-high and team-best nine MLS assists for Sporting KC.

Ilie has been one of the premier defensive midfielders in MLS since signing for Sporting KC in early 2017, ranking second in successful passes, ninth in duels won and 10th in interceptions over the last two seasons combined. During that time, the Spaniard has started 68 of Sporting KC’s 69 games in all competitions, playing every minute in each appearance. He earned Sporting KC Newcomer of the Year honors last fall after helping the team to its third U.S. Open Cup title in six seasons.

A native of Barcelona, Spain, Ilie has scored a career-high four goals this season to go with three assists. He places second in MLS in successful passes and sixth among field players in recoveries. The 27-year-old garnered MLS All-Star recognition this summer and played alongside Zusi in the 2018 MLS All-Star Game against Italian giants Juventus.

Like Besler, Zusi joined Sporting KC in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and has spent his entire professional career with the club. The University of Maryland product was named the 2011 MLS Breakout Player of the Year before landing six MLS All-Star nods (2012-2015, 2017-18) and two MLS Best XI selections (2012-13). Zusi has amassed 31 goals and 75 assists in 283 competitive matches for Sporting KC, ranking second in club history in both regular-season assists (60) and regular-season appearances (244).

Zusi, 32, has transitioned from central midfielder to winger to right back over the course of his trophy-laden Sporting KC career. Since moving to the right back position at the start of 2017, his 111 chances created are more than double the total of any other MLS defender. His versatility helped him become a regular fixture for the U.S. Men’s National Team, where he has collected 55 caps since 2012 with five goals and seven assists. He appeared in all four matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup as a wide midfielder – tallying two assists – before representing his country at the 2015 and 2017 Concacaf Gold Cups, winning the latter as a right back.

Sporting KC currently occupies third place in the Western Conference, four points behind leaders FC Dallas. Tickets for the club’s final four regular-season home matches at Children’s Mercy Park, including Saturday’s clash against Orlando City SC, are available at SeatGeek.com.

– Story from Sporting KC

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