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 Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Earns Road Point in Philadelphia

April 2, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Sporting Kansas City News Release


Sporting Kansas City (0-3-3, 3 points) snapped the Philadelphia Union's 15-game home scoring streak by claiming a well-earned point in a 0-0 draw on Saturday at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Veteran goalkeeper Tim Melia, playing his first match of 2023 after overcoming a preseason back injury, excelled between the posts with four saves for a Sporting Kansas City side that also enjoyed strong club debuts from center backs Robert Castellanos and Dany Rosero. In a cross-conference clash that was delayed 61 minutes due to inclement weather, the Union (2-3-1, 7 points) failed to score on home soil for the first time since May 2022 and saw their winless run hit four matches ahead of next Tuesday's Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal clash against Atlas FC.

Sporting were unable to conjure a goal themselves but received a promising attacking boost in the second half when Mexican striker Alan Pulido made his highly anticipated return to the field after missing all of 2022 rehabbing from knee surgery. Pulido had been sidelined the club's previous 45 regular season matches and last featured for Sporting in the MLS Cup Playoffs on Nov. 28, 2021.

Manager Peter Vermes' men will return to the friendly confines of Children's Mercy Park next Saturday, April 8, by hosting the Colorado Rapids at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are available at SeatGeek.com and the match will air live on Apple TV's MLS Season Pass.

A retooled Sporting Kansas City lineup featured five changes from last weekend's home loss to Seattle Sounders FC, headlined by the insertion of Castellanos and Rosero, the latter of whom arrived in Kansas City on Sunday after spending the last seven seasons in his native Colombia. Elsewhere, three Sporting players overcame recent injuries for their first starts of the 2023 campaign: Melia, Serbian midfielder Nemanja Radoja and captain Johnny Russell. With Ben Sweat serving a red-card suspension and fellow left backs Tim Leibold and Logan Ndenbe nursing hamstring problems, German center back Robert Voloder deputized on the left side of the backline.

Castellanos and Rosero showcased their solidarity inside the first 10 minutes, blocking back-to-back shots from Jose Martinez and Hungarian international Daniel Gazdag, respectively. At the opposite end, Sporting playmaker Erik Thommy-who entered the night leading MLS in shots and shots on target-forced the first save of the game from Union gloveman and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake in the 11th minute.

The visitors suffered a setback in the 34th minute when Radoja was prompted to exit after sustaining an injury, summoning Roger Espinoza to make his 322nd regular season appearance in Sporting blue. Rosero then went agonizingly close to finding the back of the net in the 37th minute. Off a corner kick situation, Thommy received a pass on the left wing and swung a teasing cross into the penalty area. The 6-foot-2 Rosero shook free of his marker and planted a glancing header goalward, but it lacked the purchase to beat Blake.

Philadelphia, which led MLS with 72 goals during the 2022 regular season, was effectively held at bay through the first 45 minutes and finished the first half of an MLS home match with zero shots on target for the first time since August 2021. It marked the second straight away game in which Sporting held its opponent without a single first-half shot on frame.

Nine minutes into the second stanza, Melia delivered a massive stop by advancing off his line and sprawling low to smother a breakaway shot from Mikael Uhre. Sporting's goalkeeper made another splendid save on the hour mark, leaping right to corral a Matt Real header off Gazdag's free kick delivery, one minute before Russell saw his low drive skip through traffic and into the mitts of Blake.

Shortly after Pulido's 63rd-minute introduction, Sporting defender Graham Zusi-playing his 401st match as the club's all-time appearance leader-tested Blake with a left-footed curler from 22 yards. Ten minutes later, Gazdag unleashed his own blast from long range that Melia did brilliantly to cast aside at full extension before Castellanos intervened crucially to snuff out what would have been a golden scoring chance for Union striker Julian Carranza near the penalty spot.

Carranza was left ruing his luck in the 84th minute when his admirable bicycle kick attempt from 12 yards, culminating a chaotic sequence in the box, fizzed inches wide of Melia's left-hand post. Melia stymied Philadelphia once more in stoppage time, thwarting a 25-yard belter from reigning MLS Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes.

Melia's steady performance between the post also came with a pair of notable milestones, as he passed Davy Arnaud for sixth on the club's all-time regular season minutes chart and moved into a tie for eighth in MLS history with his 28th road shutout.

QUOTES

Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes

On if teams have figured out Philadelphia this season...

Everyone loves to talk about formation and style of play and all this stuff. I think, at the end of the day, what you have to bring to every game in MLS is this high level of intensity and effort. If you don't, you're going to get knocked off the park no matter who you play. I will say that this team over the last couple of years has been very consistent at that and I think what happens to you after a while, whether it's them or anyone else, teams realize that if they're going to play you, they got to bring that and if they don't bring it, they're out. So if they bring it, then all of a sudden it's a battle. This is two teams that came in, lost the last two, and this was a battle tonight. That's what this was. This wasn't some high level possession soccer game with all these different counter moves. From a tactical perspective, it was just straight up you had to defend the boxes and everybody was trying to find something to ricochet off somebody or drop for somebody and hopefully steal the goal. I give my guys a lot of credit. I made a lot of changes in the team. (Dany) Rosero just got here on Sunday, so for him to be able to jump in the game and play 90 minutes like he did was fantastic. Philly is a really good team. I'm always really cautious to comment on the style of play of another team because I think that you play the way you play, you have success and you're consistent at it. That's what usually rules today. But again, if you lack the effort and the intensity, you might as well forget about it. You're done in this league.

On Alan Pulido's return...

It's amazing how wherever he gets on the field, how he knows how to control the space. This has been a long time coming. He is a very important player within our team so we've missed him for 14 months now. It's been a long time. We were trying to get him in last week but we went down one man and there was no way I was going to put him in that game late. But I think he's really in a good place. It's amazing how sharp he is already and the fact that he was able to get 30 minutes in the game. It bodes well for him going forward and I think he's going to be a big help to us down the stretch here for sure.

On the tactics of the game...

I don't want to get too deep into the tactics, but because they play a diamond in the middle, a lot of times whatever side the ball is on, those four guys are very focused on that side of the field. So when they switch it to that guy over there, he doesn't have a lot of support. So our objective was to try to get there quick and put him under a lot of pressure. But we also cheated a little bit. Hopefully when the guy was looking up from the other side, he said, 'hey, I don't know if I really want to hit it' because the guy was already close to him. I think we could do that because our two guys in the middle were really solid.

On if he saw the reaction out of the team he wanted after last week...

Yeah, for sure. The intensity, the effort, the battle in the guys was top class. It was a massive point for us to be able to come in here. This team doesn't lose very often here. They lost two. I figured they were going to come out in this game and they did. They threw everything at us. Obviously they got a couple of guys back as well with (Andre) Blake in goal. But it was a battle. A big point for us, for sure.

On having Johnny Russell and Tim Melia back in the starting lineup...

Tim was rock solid. He also managed the game really well. Getting Johnny back on the field is important. The minutes are important because he's got to get back into form. He's been out for a while now. And then, like we were talking about just a moment ago, getting Pulido back out on the field is big for the team as well.

On the changes on the backline...

I think (Dany) Rosero and (Robert) Castellanos were fantastic. I think that, for having never played together before and Rosero coming on Sunday, his debut was for him something to remember for sure. It's never easy and he's being thrown in a lot of respects into a big time match in Major League Soccer just from a competitive perspective. He was first rate. (Nemanja) Radoja I thought was good until he pulled off with a hammy. I don't know how bad it is, but he was good. It was an all around good match for all those guys that came in. The experience is important as long as you use it. If you don't use it, it doesn't matter.

On Robert Voloder playing at left back...

Another guy that adapted really well, defended excellent, was calm on the ball. At times a few little incidents, but I thought the other guys cleaned up and they defended really well inside our box. Very good on his part to be able to adapt and adjust very quickly.

On the play of Graham Zusi...

We talked about the backline. Zusi was there as well. Roger came in. I thought Roger was excellent. Zusi is Father Time. He just finds a way to continue to keep going. It has a lot to do with - him and Roger - their professionalism and their commitment to their profession. So it doesn't surprise me, but we needed the match from those guys that we got today.

On Erik Thommy's play in the attacking third...

Sometimes a player takes maybe one too many touches, maybe he should release it a little bit earlier for a pass or a shot. But I have all the confidence in the world in Thommy. He's a really high-quality player and that doesn't bring any worry to me. More importantly, I think it's great that in the last couple of games he has gotten 90 minutes. So his trajectory is for sure on the upswing.

On his longevity and the team's slow start...

I heard this great quote once from a very long tenured manager and he said, 'if you're going to get into coaching and you do it for a long time, you have got to be willing to suffer.' And I would agree. It's one of those professions where you win to just get to move on to the next game. When you lose, it stays with you until you play your next game. What I would say is that I think you have to be consistent, number one, at what you do. Your business has to be pretty rock solid in regards to the way that you work with the people around you. And then I would say, in regards to the starts, it's a very long season. I've had a lot of different starts over the years. I had one where we won one in 10 and then we wound up winning the Eastern Conference at the end of the season. So anything can happen in this league. I think the biggest thing is that you have got to stay committed to who you are and what you believe in - just don't have blinders on. You always have got to continue to evaluate.

Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia

On making his first appearance of the season...

It was great. It would have been even better if we could sneak away with a victory. But all in all, it was great to be back on the field. The effort from the entire team was tremendous. And overall I thought it was just a very encouraging experience in a very difficult place to play with a lot of wind, a lot of elements that maybe you don't notice on TV but make that game very difficult.

On playing with a new backline in front of him...

I think it's just kind of an experience thing, being able to talk to everybody, being able to just kind of manage everyone's expectations within the defensive line. I thought that Robert (Voloder) played out of position and did a really job. (Robert Castellanos) had not played a tremendous amount of games. He was blocking shots. Dany (Rosero) was big. (Graham) Zusi was big. I thought (Nemanja Radoja) was playing really well until he had his injury, and then Remi (Walter) and Roger (Espinoza) coming in doing a really good job. Overall, I just think that the collective effort to come here, battle difficult elements and walk away with a point is something that we can build off into the next game.

On how difficult it's been not being on the field...

I really haven't played a game since July, so last year was very difficult. But it was great to see the team do so well. And then this year, to kind of come in, have a little bit of knock in preseason and not get the minutes that you want right off the bat has been really difficult. But ultimately it's a team sport and we collectively have a good goalkeeper corps so that's been promising. Now we just need to start getting results. It's the most important thing. That's why we're here. Now we have got to concentrate on winning games and getting in positions that we want to be in.

Sporting Kansas City is owned by Sporting Club, an entity comprised of local business and community leaders. Sporting prides itself on a commitment and vision to provide high-performance experiences. Sporting Club purchased the team from the Hunt Sports Group in 2006, and under its direction has launched Swope Soccer Village, Children's Mercy Park, Compass Minerals Sporting Fields, Compass Minerals National Performance Center and Central Bank Sporting Complex while investing in the Sporting KC Academy and Sporting Kansas City II for developing local youth into homegrown talent. A charter member of Major League Soccer, Sporting are two-time MLS Cup champions (2000, 2013) and four-time winners of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (2004, 2012, 2015, 2017).

-- SportingKC.com --


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