Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC Claims Critical 3-2 Road Win at Real Salt Lake

October 7, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Sporting Kansas City News Release

On the brink of elimination from postseason contention, Sporting Kansas City went on the road to Real Salt Lake and emerged with a vital 3-2 victory on Saturday at America First Field in Sandy, Utah.

Designated Player Erik Thommy turned the Western Conference clash on its head just 36 seconds into the match when he dispossessed Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad and drew the fastest red card in MLS this season - albeit after video review following a no-call on the field by referee Ted Unkel - for being tugged down to deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Thommy then stepped up to strike the ensuing set piece into the top corner to put Sporting a goal up and a man up within the first four minutes courtesy of the club's first direct free kick goal in more than a year dating back to June 2022.

Playing with a man advantage for the first time this year in the regular season, Sporting would double the lead in the 29th minute on a well-worked buildup from the left channel. Thommy slipped a pass behind the Real Salt Lake backline for the overlapping run of Logan Ndenbe, who placed a pass perfectly into the path of club captain Johnny Russell for a first-time finish inside the far post.

With goals in back-to-back appearances and goals in both matches against Real Salt Lake this season, Russell becomes one of only three players in MLS with six or more goals in each of the past six seasons along with Luciano Acosta and Gyasi Zardes. Meanwhile, Logan Ndenbe earned the first MLS assist of his career and Thommy moved into a share of the team lead with 18 goal contributions in all competitions this season (five goals, 13 assists).

After a dominant first half in which Sporting outshot the hosts 7-1 and controlled two-thirds of the possession, RSL would refuse to go quietly in the second half of the club's regular season home finale.

Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, who began his MLS career with Real Salt Lake in 2010, was called into action for the first time just after the hour mark and produced a superb save to deny Carlos Gomez in a one-on-one situation. Less than 10 minutes later, Real Salt Lake would find the back of the net through Anderson Julio only to see the goal disallowed as the offside flag was raised.

On the opposite end, Sporting scored what would prove to be the decisive third goal in the 77th minute after Logan Ndenbe was brought down inside the penalty area. Alan Pulido's penalty attempt was momentarily turned away by Zac MacMath with one of his seven saves on the night, however Pulido alertly hammered home the rebound for his team-leading 15th goal of the season across all competitions to further bolster his MLS Comeback Player of the Year campaign after missing all of the 2022 season due to injury.

Despite going down 3-0 with 10 minutes to go and only 10 men on the field, Real Salt Lake would rally to pull two goals back beginning with a sensational strike from Brayan Vera from 30 yards out in the 81st minute. Julio would try his luck from even further out in the 87th minute, forcing Melia into his second save of the night, before Jefferson Savarino raced onto a long ball from Vera to slot home his team-leading seventh goal of the season in the 89th minute.

RSL would rattle off the final five shots of the match in search of a last-gasp equalizer, however Sporting KC emerged unscathed through a nervy eight minutes of second-half stoppage time to claim three highly valuable points in a tightly-contested Western Conference playoff race. Five teams remain in contention for the final three playoff berths, including Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United FC who are tied on 41 points and will meet on Oct. 21 at Children's Mercy Park in a scintillating Decision Day showdown on the final day of the regular season.


Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes

On Real Salt Lake's early red card and Erik Thommy's free kick goal...

Thank God for VAR because I was surprised it wasn't called during the regular play. It was so obvious. I got scared from that when it wasn't called, and in fact, (RSL) went down the other way on us. For us it was so obvious, it was a "Why are we even playing?" type of thing. Thank God for VAR. It was big time for Thommy to score his free kick. It's not like it's a penalty kick, so him hitting that ball was a great finish.

On Real Salt Lake's late rally...

What we should be talking about is we scored three goals on the road. (RSL) is a team that is very stingy in giving goals away. We got another three points to keep us alive at the moment. It's well done by the guys. The rest of it is the game. It's why people watch sports. Our guys battled to the end. They did what they had to do, they fought through it and we got all three points. Now we're on to the next game at home.

On subbing defender Dany Rosero out at halftime...

Dany just had a little (knock) and I told him we had to take him off because I didn't want to risk anything. He was also in a yellow card situation (for caution accumulation) as well, so it only made sense.

On Real Salt Lake's late pressure...

Would you rather be asking me about playing really well tonight but losing 2-1? I look at it as three goals on the road and winning 3-2. Of course they're going to pump the ball at the end and they did. We had to make a lot of changes with guys coming off the field. We got the three points and that's what matters to me.

On Sporting's disallowed goal from Marinos Tzionis in the late stages...

I think Willy (Agada) was offsides by at least a yard, personally.

On Sporting's regular season finale against Minnesota United FC on Oct. 21...

What's happened in the past never matters. It's going to be a war between both teams, so we have to get prepared. I'm surprised by the change they made as a club. I think Adrian (Heath) is a very good coach in this league. I think that he has guided that club for seven years and done a great job. He built a very good team, and that is a very good team. It's going to be an absolute battle of a game for us.

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Erik Thommy

On drawing an early foul on Justen Glad that reduced Real Salt Lake to 10 men...

Yeah, he grabbed my shirt. It was for sure a foul. At the end, we are happy that we have the VAR. Luckily we had a good start. I scored and I think the first half was pretty good.

On being subbed out in the second half...

I'm (feeling) good. I think it was (to avoid) a yellow card, so you have to be safe for the last game. And that's why I think the coach took me out. But I think the guys who went in, they did a great job. We took the three points home and next game is an important game for us at home. Hopefully we have a lot of fans at home that keep pushing us. We also need some results from the other games.

On the VAR decision...

If the VAR is for us, it's always good. Yeah, if they get a red card after two minutes, of course it plays in our favor. And after that I score directly. So yeah, we had a great half and finally we get the decision we want. Sometimes during past games we had decisions against us, for sure. So we are happy for that and I think that was also a big reason why we won the game today.

On if Sporting believes the team can reach the playoffs...

Yeah, we still believe it. I think when we go back, we know that the first 10 games were not that good and that brought us in that situation where we are. But I think we fall back and we are now in that situation where we have still a chance. But we need, of course, the results of the other games and to do our job at home. So there are a lot of things that are important next week. Hopefully we can get it done, and then there's hopefully a longer way to go.

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