Sporting Edges Vancouver in Penalty Shootout
Sporting Kansas City advanced to the MLS is Back Tournament Quarterfinals on Sunday night with a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC following a scoreless draw at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World.
A one-sided contest saw Sporting outshoot Vancouver 36-8 through 90 minutes, setting a club record for most shot attempts in an MLS match, but Whitecaps goalkeeper Thomas Hasal made eight saves as the Canadian side forced penalty kicks to decide the Round of 16 encounter. The shootout, however, belonged to Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia, who saved two penalties as Sporting prevailed 3-1 with successful spot kicks from Alan Pulido, Ilie Sanchez and Gianluca Busio.
Sunday's result sets up a marquee quarterfinal showdown between Sporting and the Philadelphia Union at 7 p.m. CT Thursday on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. The fixture will be the first of four MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinal matchups as competing clubs vie for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League berth awarded to the tournament winner.
Manager Peter Vermes' men dominated from wire to wire, notably finishing the first 45 minutes with 22 shots-the second-most in the opening half of an MLS match in league history. The first of several opportunities fell in the 10th minute to Johnny Russell, who chested down Graham Zusi's superb diagonal ball and beat defender Jake Nerwinski, only for Ranko Veselinovic to block the winger's right-footed effort.
Weathering wave after wave of Sporting pressure, Vancouver survived three close calls near the 20-minute mark. An excellent buildup involving Pulido and Russell afforded Zusi space to cross from the right wing to the far post, where Gadi Kinda's leaping header was pushed aside by the 21-year-old Hasal. Not long later, Hasal dove at full extension to save Roger Espinoza's long-range screamer before Russell fired marginally high along the left side of the box.
A rare Vancouver foray into the attacking third required Melia to make two fingertip saves in the space of a minute, with Cristian Dajome and Inbeom Hwang both trying their luck from distance. At the opposite end of the pitch, Sporting nearly broke through on the stroke of intermission as Graham Smith's header narrowly missed the mark and Hasal dropped low to palm away Russell's chested shot off an Espinoza cross. On the final play of the half, Hasal thwarted Russell's audacious free kick attempt before Espinoza's rebound effort was blocked by Derek Cornelius.
Russell continued to push the envelope after the restart, his searching ball from the left channel finding Zusi on the right side of the box, but the defender's strike lacked the direction to beat Hasal. Less than 15 minutes later, Russell advanced into the penalty area and unfurled a shot that fizzed wide of the near post and into the side netting.
Despite holding an upper hand throughout the night, Sporting almost fell behind in the 54th minute when Theo Bair's shot near the top of the box took a wicked deflection off Smith and trickled inches wide of Melia's right-hand post.
Pulido entered the night with a goal or an assist in his first five appearances for Sporting and very nearly extended his impressive streak in the 66th minute. A well-worked attack involving several players on the edge of the box culminated with an incisive run from the Mexican, whose left-footed belter was touched onto the post by Hasal.
Gerso Fernandes, Daniel Salloi entered the fray as offensive reinforcements-the latter making his 100th competitive appearance for Sporting-but a resolute Vancouver defense remained difficult to breach. Smith latched onto another corner kick in the 90th minute, Busio providing the service, but the center back's header grazed over the woodwork. In second-half stoppage time, Melia notched his last of five saves by smothering Ali Adnan's knuckling free kick from 25 yards.
The decisive penalty shootout began ominously for Vancouver, as Cristian Dajome's unsuccessful attempt rattled the post. Pulido and Whitecaps midfielder subsequently buried their penalties before Ilie picked out the corner to give Sporting a 2-1 advantage. Melia then thwarted Cornelius, giving Salloi a chance to win the game for Sporting, but his effort was also saved. Yet Melia wouldn't be outdone, as he snuffed out Yordy Reyna's strike to set the stage for Busio. The 18-year-old stepped to the spot and coolly nestled his shot into the upper corner to seal the shootout win in a game that finished close to 1:30 a.m. local time in Florida.
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes
Thoughts on the match...
Today, along with our game against Real Salt Lake, they were two very good performances. Today we controlled the game. We created so many different chances. Their goalkeeper came up with some good saves. But at the end it was a really good performance. Defensively, I thought we were tremendous. A lot of times, when you play in games like this where you do what we did in regards to the way that we played and you go into penalties, you wind up coming away and losing. I'm proud of the guys for staying focused and concentrated because they deserved to advance. They deserved to win the game. It was a very good performance and good execution at the end.
On the team's strong defensive play...
I think some of it is confidence. I think some of it is feeling good about the things that we're doing in training and then executing in the games. As I said, if you look at the way we played against Real Salt Lake, we didn't give many chances away against a very, very good team. And then today we really didn't give any chances away. I think the guys are gaining confidence in that world which I think has a lot to do with reading of the game and a lot to do with the work that the guys are doing off the ball and collapsing with more than just one or two guys around the player. We were collapsing with three or four sometimes. We're not giving teams a lot of space on the ball and that's really, really good. And then, the other thing is, we're getting a lot better with second balls, which is something we've always struggled with a little bit. We've gotten a lot better. This group is actually doing a really good job with it. All those things are helping. Everybody is defending. Everybody is working hard. The other thing, too, is that we're starting to get a lot more pressure up top because I think that our fitness is definitely increasing.
On the team's aggressive attack aiding the defense...
We moved the ball well and we created great chances. You've got to give their goalkeeper a lot of credit. The young kid did a good job. There are some situations where sometimes you can obviously be a lot more clinical. You can be more concentrated and all of those things. But sometimes when they don't happen, you also can't lose yourself and we didn't do that today. I think one thing you have to take into consideration is that you still have to maintain a high level of concentration when you have the ball a lot like we did in the game, especially defensively. What tends to happen is that you have to keep a compact group to make sure that, all of a sudden, you don't get picked apart because you're pressing, pressing, pressing for a goal and you open yourself up at the back. I thought we had good balance in our attack. Their active defending in today's game was really, really good. It wasn't an easy game to play.
On the play of Vancouver's goalkeeper...
We had a lot of good chances and he made some really good saves. When you're in this area of a tournament, the only thing that you're trying to do is you're trying to advance. I think we had the ingredients today to advance. We were good with the ball. We for sure created really good chances. Defensively, we were very tight. And at the end, when it went into penalty kicks, I thought Timmy was tremendous. I thought our guys that went up and took them were confident. We had been working on them, but they were confident. We do pretty well when we get into this area of tournaments.
On if Tim Melia is the best penalty stopper in the league...
I think Tim does a really good job on penalties just in regular games. I'd say he's one of the best, for sure. He's definitely one of the best because even during the season, he always seems to find a way to make good decisions. He's got a really good eye for reading what players are going to do.
On the match-up with Philadelphia in the quarterfinals...
It will definitely be a different game. They have a lot of energy. From front to back, they are very solid. They're a team that plays on both sides of the ball really, really well. There are not a lot of holes in their group. We expect it to be a really, really tough match for us. It'll be different. We're going from 9am ET to 11pm ET to 8pm ET and we'll see where the next one goes after that if we get through.
On the creative play of the front five...
I think the group has a lot of improvisation in it. You can work on pattern play and different things and give ideas to guys. But at the end, when the other team starts posing different situations, it's hard to manage that from the sideline during the flow of the game. When you look at players that we have, I could go through a ton of them. You've got Johnny Russell, you've got Khiry Shelton, you've got Daniel Salloi who came on, you've got Gerso Fernandes, you've got Alan Pulido, you have Gadi Kinda and Gianluca Busio when he came on. Those guys have a lot of improvisation within the game and what you can tell is that they're all starting to get familiar with each other and starting to understand more and more all the time what attributes each of them bring. They definitely can create stuff out of nothing, which is something that we haven't had in this team in a long, long time and not at this quality across the board.
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia
On staying focused for the penalty shootout despite most of the play being in Vancouver's end...
It's just the life of a goalkeeper, right? It's one play, one decision that affects the game. Then when you go into a penalty shootout, I think our goalkeeper coach, Alec Dufty, does a phenomenal job preparing me and all the goalkeepers for those situations and we were fortunate to come out on top tonight.
On the role of preparation for shootouts and if he watches other player's tendencies...
Yeah of course. A penalty shootout is different than penalties within the game. You're trying to pick up any little cues you can see, directions people are looking, tendencies of the shooter, their run-up, their approach, and kind of put everything all together all at once and hopefully pick the right side. Tonight I thought the guys taking the shots on our team, they were really good penalties and as a goalkeeper you tell yourself just try to save one and the guys are going to put all theirs in and tonight we were lucky to get out of there in four rounds.
On being 5-0 in penalty shootouts throughout his career and if he takes special pride in that part of his game...
I don't think so. I think it's just another piece - you try to be the most complete goalkeeper you are and you have to work on all different facets of your game. In all the penalty shootouts that I've been in, the shooters - especially on this team - have always done so well and most of them have scored and I've had to make a save or two, so a lot of that comes down to the team.
On the performance of Vancouver's 21-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Hasal...
He was the difference-maker all game. I think that we controlled a lot of that game, we could've maybe had a little better execution in front of goal but he changed the entire game, he kept that team in. He's a very young goalkeeper and he had a great performance. The future's bright for all of Vancouver's goalkeepers, I think they're all very talented and they have a very good future ahead of them.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gianluca Busio
On what he was thinking and feeling as he scored the winning penalty...
Obviously we're all happy that we won. I was the fourth man to take it so there's always a chance that I was going to step up and have to win it. So I kind of walked in with the mindset that this is going in, it did, and I'm happy that I could provide the PK to win the game.
On the approach toward his penalty...
I think I was just focused on myself. I knew that if I put it where I wanted to, there's no way he could save it and it turned out well for me. He was close to it but I try not to focus on the goalie that much and I knew if I put it where I wanted it, it was going in.
On dealing with the pressure of coming off the bench and needing to take a penalty...
I think it's up to the player really and I'm going into the game with the mindset that I have to help the team win. In these games we know that if the game's tied at the end, it's going to go into penalties, so it's always in the back of your head. In the game, I try not to think about that, I want to go out and win in regular time, but once that whistle (blows) at the end of the game, it was in my mind that I'm going up, I'm taking this penalty and I'm making it. I try not to think about it until the end and I'm just happy that I could put it in.
On if the team got frustrated after taking so many shots and not being able to find the breakthrough...
It's always frustrating when you have a lot of chances and you can't put them in. I think the guys we have on the team know just to keep on pushing and we kept on creating chances. Maybe on another day, two of those or three of those are going in the goal so I think it's good that even though we're not scoring, we're still creating them. It shows that we're still going to try, no matter what. Obviously the goalie had a good game and we could've been better in the final third but if you keep on trying, one of those is going to come off and hopefully in these next couple of games, they will. It's like you say, it's keep on trying, they're going to go in eventually.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Head Coach Marc Dos Santos
On the match...
I thought tactically our approach, we covered the ground how we wanted to go about the game. The effort of everyone was fantastic. We tried to put ourselves in a position that in the second half, we could have finished our opportunities. There's two really close ones. I think a shot that got deflected from Theo that was so close, then a very good free-kick from Ali that was close. Look, my guys are fantastic. The foundations of this group and the foundations of what we could be about is great and I am very excited to see how this group is going to look like when we are going to be able to work with consistency with everyone. Very young team today, incredible professionalism and effort. We did everything we could and then penalty shots, its 50/50. I saw Maradona miss, I saw Platini miss, I saw Ronaldinho miss. You know, it happens. I am very proud of the group. I am very proud of our guys. I am very proud of the staff, not only the technical staff, the medical staff, everybody that came here with the right attitude and every time there's a setback or a problem, the attitude of the staff, of everyone in the club, of the players was incredible. So we are leaving this tournament stronger that's for sure.
On the postgame message to the players...
I spoke to the staff and to the players letting everybody know that I am proud of everyone. I am proud of how after we conceded seven goals in two games, how we were able without really training to readjust things and not concede a goal in the last 180 or more minutes. Being a team that was very organized and knowing what we wanted to do in the last two games, it was clear and our guys are coming out of this stronger and better. Our group is fantastic, our players that worked so much on the field are a great group of guys and that's why they were able to push and do well. We got knocked out against a very good Sporting Kansas City team where we played equal and where our guys have to be proud of themselves.
On the performance of the team during the tournament...
You know, we just think about the full puzzle. Guys, Bikel, Maxime Crepeau, Bryan Meredith, Erik Godoy, Andy Rose, David Milinkovic, Tos Ricketts, Fredy Montero, Lucas Cavallini, all guys that are out at this moment. So when we look at the full picture, we have to be confident that we are going to make this team grow. Everybody is working hard for that. We lost tonight in penalty shots, we are sad, we are disappointed because we felt that we were close but then you have to put that aside. Look at the big picture, look at what we could look like and keep working. We are in the right direction as a club or culture that is being created by everyone is the right one and we will be a strong club. I am very confident about that.
On the performance of Thomas Hasal...
I spoke a lot in the last few days about Thomas and Thomas knows how much I appreciate him and what I think about him. But Thomas needs to stay in the process you know. It's games like that, that are going to make him grow and become better and remember he is Canadian and he was brought up in our academy, so everybody in our academy, the staff, Raegyn, our technical director, Greg, everybody has to be proud of the work they have done to bring the kid to us. And Youssef continued the job that was done before. Thomas needs to stay focused. Thomas needs to stay away from the blah blah blah of social media and guys that get too excited fast and too low fast. Thomas needs to stay in his bubble and focus, keep working and it is the only way he is going to become better and better, but he showed great signs in the last 180 minutes but I said it yesterday I think, when you look at Thomas, what he showed in pre-season and how he listens and how he works with Bryan and how he works with Max, it is important for his growth. He needs to stay in planet earth and not allow media or people to bring him to planet mars. He needs to stay in planet earth.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Russell Teibert
On tonight's effort...
I'm so proud of everybody, so proud of the kid next to me playing like he's been here for years now. That's just to mention one guy. I'm so proud of the organization as a whole. Everybody in this club who came down here to this tournament knowing that we're facing adversity and everybody stepped up to the plate, every dynamic possible. This extends to all of the staff. But most importantly, the product that we put out on the field, especially what we showed tonight. You saw a team that played with tremendous heart, tremendous respect for the jersey, respect for the logo and that's all you can ask for, a team that puts themselves on the line for the club and that's what you saw tonight. I'm so proud of the guys for what we accomplished here.
On lessons learned...
I don't like the word 'depleted' or the phrase 'depleted squad' because we didn't look like a depleted squad tonight and I think everybody can attest to that. The squad that you saw tonight was a team, a full team, a team that played with full heart and a team that stepped up when everybody was needed. 'Depleted squad' for me is misused. Obviously we know there are guys that weren't here but this is a tournament that we can grow from as a young team. This is only going to make us better and I want to reiterate that we're proud of everyone who came down here.
On the support the team received...
This was a collective effort not just from the 11 guys that were out on the field and from the subs that came on. This was from an organization - everybody needed to step up to the plate and do their job and you saw that. You saw that in ways like you mentioned - from the support, from the staff, from the players, from the subs, everybody on the side cheering this team on, wanting it for the club, wanting it for the fans. It's truly special when you have everybody pulling on the same direction. That's what we had here. And that's what makes teams. Teams grow from experience like this, from tournaments like this, from times like this. Especially in defeat, you learn in defeat and that's exactly what we'll do here tonight.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Thomas Hasal
On making big saves for the team and standing up to the pressure...
Yeah, of course it's been a big, special first few days, but I think tonight is all about being proud of our team performance, especially feeling now, we're obviously disappointed to be out of the tournament, but, it's a feeling of pride for everyone out on the field that gave their all today. These guys in front of me didn't stop running, especially this guy beside me. Not one player gave up for a single moment in this game and the rest of the team is a part of it as well. Everyone was a part of it, and everyone has given their all these last few days.
On the penalty shootout...
I was excited. Shootouts for goalkeepers are definitely a chance to be a hero, penalties are something I enjoy, and I thought I was ready for it. The team gave me some good advice, some good information. Of course we worked so hard to get to the point it felt like this was our moment, this was our time, but unfortunately it wasn't.
On hitting his head on the goal camera...
Yeah, I'm all good. I'm definitely not used to the camera being there so it took me by surprise in the first half, but I'm okay. Thank you.
On blocking out the buzz and staying focused on his game...
To be honest, this is the first time I've heard about any of this, but these guys do a good job of keeping me out of that and at the end of the day we're just playing soccer; it's what I've done all my life, it's what I'll continue to do.
Sporting Kansas City is owned by Sporting Club, an entity founded by a group of local business and community leaders comprised of the Patterson Family, Cliff Illig, Pat Curran, Greg Maday and Robb Heineman. 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 opened Swope Soccer Village, Children's Mercy Park, Compass Minerals Sporting Fields and Compass Minerals National Performance Center 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).
MLS is Back Tournament
Knockout Stage presented by Audi | Round of 16
ESPN Wide World of Sports | Walt Disney World in Florida
Weather: 78 degrees and mostly clear
Score 1 2 F PK
Sporting Kansas City 0 0 0 3
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 0 0 0 1
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Roberto Puncec, Graham Smith, Luis Martins; Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza (Gianluca Busio 67'), Gadi Kinda; Khiry Shelton (Daniel Salloi 80'), Alan Pulido (C), Johnny Russell (Gerso Fernandes 67')
Subs Not Used: Richard Sanchez, Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, Jaylin Lindsey, Winston Reid, Cameron Duke, Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain, Erik Hurtado
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Thomas Hasal; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinovic, Derek Cornelius, Cristian Gutierrez; Cristian Dajome, Leonard Owusu, Russell Teibert (C), Ali Adnan; Inbeom Hwang (Yordy Reyna 72'), Theo Bair
Subs Not Used: Jasser Khmiri, Michael Baldisimo, Simon Colyn, Patrick Metcalfe, Damiano Pecile, Ryan Raposo
SKC -- Gadi Kinda (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 9'
VAN -- Leonard Owusu (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 47'
VAN -- Cristian Gutierrez (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 59'
Penalty Kick Summary:
VAN -- Cristian Dajome (missed)
SKC -- Alan Pulido (scored)
VAN -- Leonard Owusu (scored)
SKC -- Ilie Sanchez (scored)
VAN -- Derek Cornelius (saved)
SKC -- Daniel Salloi (saved)
VAN -- Yordy Reyna (saved)
SKC -- Gianluca Busio (scored)
Stat SKC VAN
Shots 36 8
Shots on Goal 8 5
Saves 5 8
Fouls 10 8
Offsides 2 2
Corner Kicks 12 4
Referee: Victor Rivas
Assistant Referee: Eduardo Mariscal
Assistant Referee: Ian McKay
Fourth Official: Guido Gonzales Jr.
VAR: Fotis Bazakos
AVAR: Corey Rockwell
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