Writer, Nathan Mahloch travelled to Chicago last weekend to watch his team Sporting Kansas City win in dramatic fashion. He wrote a match report and you can watch the highlights from his trip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM4RQhrNmBo
Michael Jackson once wrote a song/short film called Thriller. You might have heard of it. This game was exactly that, a thriller. On a cold evening in Chicago in front of a crowd of 14,021 people there was a total of seven goals. Yes, you read that right, seven goals!
It was a great game for the neutral and ultimately a great win for Sporting KC. SKC struck twice in the final ten minutes to earn a remarkable 4-3 victory over the Chicago Fire. That being said we can’t overlook the faults of both teams in defence during the course of the game.
Sporting fans expected changes after the 2-0 loss to NYCFC and Vermes made three changes to the starting lineup. Veteran left back Seth Sinovic replaced Cristian Lobato (Thank God), winger Daniel Salloi stepped in for Yohan Croizet, and striker Diego Rubio made way for Sporting KC debutant Khiry Shelton. Captain Matt Besler, meanwhile, became the third player in Kansas City history to log 20,000 regular-season minutes for the club. (Joining current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin and former defender Nick Garcia)
Saturday’s instant classic gave Sporting KC their fifth win in 25 regular-season visits to Chicago, ending a three game losing streak at Toyota Park. The offensive explosion brought about four goals for the first time since August of 2015 for SKC. While that was great, it was also the first time since October 2016 that Peter Verme’s men gave up 3 goals.
Sporting KC jumped out to a dream start on Saturday when Gutierrez nodded Sporting KC ahead. Besler kick-started the attack with a long diagonal pass to Graham Zusi, who played Russell through on goal. Russell’s close-range effort was smothered by Chicago goalkeeper Richard Sanchez who came off his line well, but the rebound fell directly to Gutierrez’s head inside the box. The Chilean international could hardly miss and his cushioned header nestled into a gaping net for his first SKC goal. The first goal fot SKC as a team in the 2018 MLS campaign as well.
Sporting KC continued to control proceedings as the half unfolded, although Sporting was losing the possession battle they held Chicago to a single shot attempt over the course of the half, and their dominance was rewarded in the 44th minute. Roger Espinoza sprung Salloi free down the left channel, allowing the 21-year-old to exploit space and deliver a pinpoint cutback pass that put the ball on a sliver plate for Russell. Russell got himself into the right place at the right time and he scored from from 12 yards to join Gutierrez in netting his first MLS goal.
Chicago had been by far the second-best for the first 45 minutes but responded positively after the restart, nearly cutting the deficit in half when Katai’s teasing ball was somehow headed wide right by Luis Solignac from five yards out. Katai signed in the offseason to replace David Accam look very promising for Chicago. After this Seth Sinovic came off with a head injury with brought on Jimmy Medranda. While Medranda got on the scoresheet later the defense seemed to lack without Sinovic.
The Toyota Park crowd was again left frustrated in disbelief in the 62nd minute as Zusi denied Chicago their first goal in dramatic fashion. Luis Solignac’s low drive from a tight angle deflected off Besler and was saved by Tim Melia, the rebound went to Nikolic, but Zusi was there to clear the ball from going in.
A clever nutmeg of Medranda from the German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger gave the midfielder space to clip a cross into the middle for Katai, who unlike Solignac put his header on target and past Melia in the 70th minute to mark his MLS debut with a goal as well.
Four minutes later, Melia did wonderfully to turn away midfielder Dax McCarty’s header off a corner kick, but Nikolic was in the right place at the right time to supply a simple finish and open his 2018 scoring account. Then the Hungarian doubled his tally and pushed Chicago ahead in the 82nd minute on a well-worked attack from the hosts. Matt Polster’s looping ball to the back post was volleyed back across the face of goal by Brandon Vincent and prodded low into the corner by Nikolic.
That 3-2 scoreline lasted for less than 60 seconds as SKC seemed to flip a switch at the blink of an eye. Perhaps, Kansas City had let up on the gas pedal at 2-0 but after Nikolic made it 3-2 SKC switched gears to full throttle. Espinoza’s low delivery into the box skipped through traffic and was palmed away but done poorly by Chicago goalkeeper Sanchez into the path of Medranda, who curved the ball into the roof of the net from 15 yards out to level the score.
The 83rd minute equaliser set the stage for a heart beating ending in a terrific but fluky battle in a supposed rivalry match. Russell proved to be the catalyst for the match winner, beating multiple defenders on a lung-busting, 50-yard (Gareth Bale esk) run into the box before sweating the ball to Salloi near the pk spot. The homegrown forward took a touch and back-heeled the ball to Gerso, who smartly and unselfishly let it run through his legs to Gutierrez. Which led to a one-timer into the bottom corner as some hockey fans might say. The beautiful goal ignited wild celebrations among Sporting KC’s 400 traveling supporters and Sporting held on to a lead this time for a 4-3 victory on a frigid evening in Bridgeview.
While a 4-3 result is a great spectacle you have to question the defense. Many questions are to be asked about the already 5 goals give up by SKC in the first two games of the season. A team that had the 2017 MLS defender of the year (Ike Opara) and 2017 MLS goalkeeper of the year (Tim Melia). For Chicago this was a familiar theme. Most fans I talked to said the defense has been lackluster for years now without improvement as only the attack seems to be considered in the transfer window. But, both teams will need to improve their defensive play with there current roster if they want to compete going forward.
Sporting KC returns to Children’s Mercy Park next Saturday on St. Patrick’s Day against the San Jose Earthquakes (1-0-0, 3 points). Last time the two sides met was in the US Open Cup Semifinals which ended 1-1 through 120 minutes and saw SKC the future winners of the cup on PK’s.
Written by Nathan Mahloch (@KansasSportsTV)