Sporting Kansas City (17-8-8, 59 points) earned a resounding 3-0 win over FC Dallas (16-8-9, 57 points) on Sunday at Toyota Stadium.
Goals from Daniel Salloi, Roger Espinoza and Johnny Russell allowed Sporting KC to leapfrog their opponents for first place in the Western Conference with one regular season match still to play.
The victory ensures that Sporting KC can finish no worse than fourth place in the West heading into next Sunday’s all-important Decision Day duel with LAFC at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
As a result, Sporting KC is guaranteed to be the host of at least one game in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, marking the first time the club has been the host of a postseason match since winning MLS Cup on Dec. 7, 2013.
Tickets for Sporting KC’s first home playoff tilt at Children’s Mercy Park are now on sale via SeatGeek.com. Season ticket members will automatically retain their seats for all playoff matches, excluding the MLS Cup final, and can contact their client services executive for questions and further information.
Prior to kicking off their postseason campaign, Sporting KC will return to Children’s Mercy Park to play host to LAFC (16-8-9, 57 points) in their regular season finale at 3:30 p.m. next Sunday, Oct. 28. Tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com as the top two teams in the West battle for the No. 1 seed before a nationally televised audience on FS1.
Four days removed from 4-1 road victory in Vancouver, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes reshuffled his lineup with three changes. Chilean midfielder Felipe Gutierrez returned from international duty to replace Yohan Croizet, while Russell and Khiry Shelton stepped in for forwards Gerso Fernandes and Diego Rubio. In defense, captain Matt Besler became the first player in Sporting KC history to reach 300 competitive appearances and 250 regular season starts for the club.
Michael Barrios bagged a hat-trick in FC Dallas’ 3-2 win over Sporting KC on July 28 and nearly fired the hosts ahead in the 8th minute on Sunday. The diminutive winger split a pair of defenders near midfield and embarked on a lung-busting sprint down the right channel before pulling the trigger, but goalkeeper Tim Melia – who delivered a vintage performance over the course of 90 minutes – produced a sliding save to extinguish the danger.
Not to be outdone by Melia, FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez rescued his side nine minutes later. Referee Robert Sibiga awarded Sporting KC a penalty when Dallas defender Matt Hedges chopped Gutierrez to the turf following a low cross from Johnny Russell, but Ilie Sanchez’s ensuing spot kick was pushed aside by Gonzalez.
A delicately poised battle continued to sway from one direction to the other, with Melia sprawling low to deny Maxi Urruti just before Espinoza’s bouncing header at the opposite end caromed off the outside of the post.
Sporting KC breathed a sigh of relief in the 35th minute when Barrios’ incisive diagonal pass put Dominique Badji clean through on goal, but the forward dragged his shot inches wide of Melia’s left-hand post. The guilt-edged chance would prove costly, as Salloi – making his 50th regular season appearance – broke the deadlock on the stroke of halftime.
In the final minute of first-half regulation, Shelton clipped a lob over the top for Gutierrez to chase into the box. His initial strike was repelled by Gonzalez, but Salloi’s rebound effort beat the Dallas keeper, snuck between the legs of Reggie Cannon and nestled into the corner of the net. The goal was Salloi’s team-leading 10th in MLS and 12th across all competitions, as well as his fourth in three matches against FC Dallas this season.
Three minutes after the restart, Melia’s heroics between the posts kept Sporting KC on top.
After Ilie was deemed to have fouled Hedges in the box, Reto Ziegler saw his left-footed penalty snuffed out by the outstretched Melia, whose six saved penalties since the start of 2017 rank first in MLS. The reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year is also tied for the league lead with a career-high 13 shutouts in 2018.
Vermes’ men remained dangerous themselves and almost doubled their advantage on the hour-mark, but Russell’s left-footed attempt off an Ilie feed fizzed narrowly wide. Melia then came up big twice in quick succession, smothering a low drive from Urruti before punching Barrios’ venomous blast over the bar.
Espinoza opened his 2018 scoring account in the 64th minute when Ike Opara rose high to nod Russell’s free kick back across the face of goal. The Honduran World Cup veteran prodded home from close range for his seventh career Sporting KC goal, giving Opara his second assist of the campaign. The strike was also one for the history books, as Sporting KC broke single-season club records with their 62nd league goal and 30th road goal of 2018.
Russell added icing on the cake from the penalty spot in the 87th minute, sending Gonzalez the wrong way after Salloi had been tripped from behind by Marquinhos Pedroso. Russell, whose 10th league goal and 12th overall drew him level with Salloi for the team lead, became the fourth player in Sporting KC history to record double-digit goals and assists in a single regular season.
– Story from Sporting KC