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Sporting KC Cruises to 4-1 Win over Minnesota

June 4, 2018 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Sporting Kansas City News Release

Sporting Kansas City roared to the top of the Western Conference with a commanding 4-1 victory over Minnesota United FC on Sunday night at sold-out Children's Mercy Park.

Daniel Salloi's sublime opener set the stage for a dominant win that included further goals from Cristian Lobato, Diego Rubio and 19-year-old Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, who became the second-youngest Kansas City player to score in an MLS regular season match. The result lifts Sporting KC (8-2-4, 28 points) two points clear of FC Dallas at the top of the West, while Minnesota (5-8-1, 16 points) remains in ninth place after suffering a third defeat in as many visits to Children's Mercy Park dating back to last season.

Sunday marked the first time in Sporting KC history that two Homegrown Players - Salloi and Kuzain - scored in the same match. The evening also saw captain Matt Besler reach a momentous milestone, logging his 240th regular season appearance to tie Davy Arnaud for first place on Sporting KC's all-time charts.

A combination of injury and international duty prompted Manager Peter Vermes to make two attacking changes to his starting 11 from last Sunday's scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC. Khiry Shelton was sidelined with a thigh ailment and Johnny Russell missed out after featuring for the Scotland Men's National Team on Saturday night in Mexico City. In their absence, Daniel Salloi stepped into the center forward role while Cristian Lobato and Gerso Fernandes - earning his first start of 2018 - entered the lineup as wingers.

A national television audience on FS1 was treated to a breathless first half that produced four goals from both sides and 18 shot attempts from the rampant hosts. Fernandes created the game's first chance from scratch in the fourth minute, nutmegging Tyrone Mears along the left endline and pulling the trigger from a tight angle, forcing Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth into a reflex save. Lobato teed up Yohan Croizet four minutes later, but the Frenchman's near-post effort was smothered by Shuttleworth.

Sporting KC's early superiority was rewarded with nine minutes on the clock, courtesy of Salloi's magisterial strike from distance. A wave of pressure created a Minnesota turnover in Sporting KC's attacking third, allowing Croizet to head the ball into the path of Salloi 25 yards from goal. The forward touched the ball onto his patented right boot and curled a superb effort into the far right corner of the net for his fourth goal of the campaign.

The Loons were second-best for most of the night but responded positively after falling behind. Christian Ramirez's bending effort caromed off the crossbar before the visitors restored parity in the 12th minute on a venomous, 30-yard piledriver from Mears that stunned the Children's Mercy Park crowd.

Another significant plot twist unfolded in the 18th minute when Croizet was forced to exit due to injury, paving the way for Kuzain to make his second MLS appearance after debuting for the club just seven days earlier.

Minnesota suffered a hammer-blow late in the first half, but not before nearly taking the lead on two separate occasions. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia did wonderfully to thwart Darwin Quintero on a deflected free kick in the 25th minute, sprawling low to his right after the Colombian's low drive was redirected by Seth Sinovic's outstretched foot. Minnesota midfielder Rasmus Schuller lofted a clever diagonal ball to Ramirez two minutes later, but his shot from the right side of the box rattled the outside of the post and bounced out of play.

Sporting KC were in the ascendancy over the final hour, reclaiming a one-goal advantage in the 35th minute. Graham Zusi scooted along the right endline and although his cutback pass was repelled, the ball rolled kindly to Kuzain, who pulled the trigger near the penalty spot. His shot took a slight deflection through traffic and nestled low into the corner of the net to ignite joyous celebrations across the stadium. Kuzain's goal made him the second-youngest player to score in an MLS match as 19 years and 262 days.

With their tails up, Sporting KC struck again on 38 minutes when Roger Espinoza slipped a delightful through ball to Lobato inside the penalty area. Shuttleworth got a touch on the Spaniard's close-range toe-poke, but the ball squirted under the keeper's right arm and trickled over the goal line to give Lobato his second tally of the season. Espinoza, meanwhile, reached an MLS career-high with his sixth assist of 2018.

Ilie almost added a fourth in stunning fashion just before the break, but his 32-yard missile shook the frame of the goal after Shuttleworth was well-beaten.

A straightforward second half offered its first plot twist on the hour-mark. Sinovic suffered an apparent leg injury and was forced to make way for 18-year-old homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey, who earned his MLS and Sporting KC debut. Three minutes later, proceedings went from bad to worse for Minnesota when Maximiniano, a halftime substitute, received his second yellow card for a bad challenge on Ilie and was ejected from the match.

Fernandes continued to ask questions of the Minnesota defense, nearly connecting on a low cross from Lobato before seeing his own delivery headed narrowly wide by Ike Opara. The fourth goal would come, however, off the left foot of Rubio with nine minutes remaining. The Chilean, who had entered the action just three minutes earlier, settled a pass from Fernandes and fired low across Shuttleworth to give Sporting KC a 4-1 lead and mark the first time during the Opta era (2010-present) that two Sporting KC substitutes scored in the same match.

With Sunday's contest in the rearview mirror, Sporting KC will now prepare for pivotal two-game road trip that begins Wednesday with a trip to rivals Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round. Vermes' men enter the tournament as reigning Open Cup champions and will begin their title defense in the round of 32, with kickoff set for 9 p.m. CT at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The club will then travel further west for the resumption of the MLS regular season, locking horns with the Portland Timbers at 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Providence Park in Portland.

QUOTES

Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes

On how the club responded to last week's match...

I think that one of the things you're always trying to do is you're always trying to figure out how your team responds. Every year is different, even if you have all of the same players, it doesn't matter. You always want to try and figure out how they're going to respond, in those moments when you might not play well, or when you lose, or maybe my assessment is not one that is very favorable. So, what I would say is that the response was excellent. The first half was probably the best first half of soccer that we've played this year. I mean we could have probably easily scored five goals in the first half, we were in and around that box. I think we had 18 shots in the first half. It's great to see that. It's great to see the guys respond that way. Like I have always said, one of the biggest things is, especially in this League, when somebody figures out how to be consistent and how they can be a dangerous team. We haven't had a lot of missteps this season, but the fact is the guys responded well and I'm happy about that. But, at the same time, we need to make sure that we can consistently do it.

On Kuzain's play...

Kuzain, as I said last week, we all see the potential in the kid. What I am probably most proud of, years ago, I sat with Cliff (Illig) and Michael (Illig) about this idea of the player enterprise and the pro pathway in our club. So Kuz(ain) was obviously in our Academy. We signed him to a Swope Park Rangers contract. He progressed very fast, and we thought he was worthy of a first team contract. He gets a first team contract, and here he is, stepping into his second game in a row. He not only has major minutes, but scores a goal. He has the confidence and ability to play at this level at 19. He was big time. Then you throw (Jaylin) Lindsey in there, and he's not in the position he usually plays, he's a right back not a left back, but we had that much confidence in him and I thought he was tremendous. He has great instincts for the game, and it was excellent. Great to see.

On Gerso's first start and Lobato's first appearance on the wing...

Lobo (Cristian Lobato) scored. Gerso (Fernandes) was a handful all night for them. His speed and his ability to eliminate players 1v1 was excellent. When you're putting teams under pressure like that, especially in the final third, you're going to create chances up and around the box, and we were really good there. And then you can ask Robo (Rob Thomson), I predicted he was going to score tonight, and I figured something out over the last couple days. I won't tell you, but I figured something out about him, so hopefully it keeps going in an upward trajectory.

On Daniel Salloi and his movement...

I think it was the players, and I think Daniel is a very mobile player. So, you stick him in the middle and he causes problems. Most central defenders don't like to get pulled wide and don't like guys who create a lot of movement up there. So, he was extremely dangerous. There is another part of it where he is very hungry to score. The goal that he scored was world class. He was very good for us. I thought he created a lot of mismatches for them, because I don't think they could stay with him by the way that he was moving with the ball and without it.

On the team's depth...

We have a deeper team. But you know, it's getting tested right now. Some guys are hung up with some little injuries here and there which, I don't think any of them are too serious, but some might keep them out for a couple of games. We have three games in seven days but it's also going to give some of these younger guys the chance to play which is great for them. I just look at our team and when you look at the group, there is one thing about having players who are technically and tactically sound. But, the big thing you always have to have is a very strong mentality in this game. Any time you step over those white lines you have to have a high work ethic. If you don't, you don't give yourself the chance to get the result. And tonight, I think we were a handful physically, and I think we were a handful in our movement off the ball. And then the final piece is our hunger was unrelenting in the game.

On the focus of this past week...

The focus was competing on both sides of the ball. I'm not giving you my secret sauce but you can only imagine. It worked, so that was good.

On younger guys earning spots...

They have earned it. They come everyday and they all work hard. They're kind of right there. There was a time where they were once ball boys out here on the sideline. So, they see all these guys running around, yet they're really far away. They're close, but they're really far away. Then all of a sudden, some of those guys end up going to the Swope Park Rangers team and they get a chance to maybe once in a while come have a practice with us, because maybe we need some players or were doing a scout team against us. Then, all of a sudden, we sign them to a contract and they're training on a regular basis and now they're sitting on the 18, and then they step on the field. The thing about all those guys is I've said this before and I'll continue to say it, when you have the environment that we do, where you look at our Academy teams, into our Swope Park Rangers and into our senior team, everyone is playing the same model of play. The transition for those guys, it's really easy. Because the acclimation period of learning our system of play isn't really there. What they're really trying to get accustomed to is our speed of play. From level to level, obviously the speed of play gets faster and faster. It's a lot easier doing that, when you already understand the model of play and your role and responsibilities on the team. So hopefully one day, we're going to see 11 players starting on the field that are coming through our system.

On the individual impact of players...

There's always this idea as a coaching staff, we're sitting there in our room saying, "There's this guy on the roster we hope plays bad this week so we don't have to play him." We want every guy on the roster to be at the best form they can be at. And at the same time, I'm always hoping for the idea that I lose even more sleep at night because I have to make a decision, because all the guys are in great form and now I have to figure out what is going to be the best group. All of those guys have done themselves a favor tonight in the way that they played, the way their mentality was, and their work ethic. And getting the results, that's just business. As the top team, we have to get the results. We have to win. Swope Park Rangers, that's a little different. But the top team, we have to win. And those guys all helped get the result tonight, which is also a big plus for them as well.

On Roger Espinoza's importance to the team...

I think one of the things of where Roger has really grown as a player, is if you remember him in the early years, he used to run everywhere. And now I think everyone, including myself, we appreciated that. But, what he does now is or where he's evolved as a player is he is much more cerebral in the game. His soccer IQ has increased immensely. So, he's picking the right times when he would maybe go press the ball. He's not as antsy to try and thread the needle with a pass that, you know, is probably not a good percentage pass for us to get something or keep possession of. So, he's been getting better and better at that and it's helping the team. It's helping us get more goals obviously because he's got assists and the other piece is, he's helping our model of play continue to evolve. It happens to a lot of players as they continue to get older as well because they realize that, "hey, I'd like to run less, and maybe think a little more before I run."

On Cristian Lobato and the team's versatility...

It's great. Actually, we have a lot of those guys. Jimmy Medranda is a guy like that. There's a lot of them. Kuzain can play either three of the positions in the midfield easily. So, we have a lot of players that way. But at the same time, what I really like about Lobato is that he's a guy that is unassuming in a lot of ways. And especially when he's up front, you know as a winger. Most guys don't see him until the last second. And you saw many times when he got in behind the back line tonight, and that because of his movement off the ball and he reads the game really well. So, it's great to have players like that and it's great to have them perform like they did tonight, because what that does, is it sets the standard of our team even a little bit higher.

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal

On scoring his first MLS goal...

It's unbelievable. It hasn't quite hit me yet but I'm sure it will.

On making a second appearance with Sporting KC...

It's unbelievable. To come from the Academy, to the Swope Park Rangers, now to the first team, it means a lot and hopefully I impacted the game in a positive way.

On the message from Peter Vermes prior to entering the match...

He said, be confident and he said I'll score a goal. When he says something it usually comes true.

On the team's performance...

It was good. We kept the ball. We had it moving. Hopefully we entertained the fans, which is always good to do at home.

Sporting Kansas City forward Daniel Salloi

On his goal...

We put pressure on them in their own half. Yohan got the ball and played it to me. I just tried to put the ball in front of me so I can have a shot. It was a great shot. I'm happy for it. I'm happy I can give the lead to the team. After they scored, we could respond again. I think it's a great win. It was very important.

On the team's performance...

It was very good -- a lot of movement. We kept the ball a lot. That's our style. That's important that we play it because we can outplay teams, especially at home. We did that so I think this is great.

On the team's depth...

It's awesome that we have players who can come in and change the game. Kuzain scored his first goal. Jaylin made his debut. I think this is awesome, especially that they come from the Academy. That just shows that Peter can trust Academy kids and build on the future. That's what he's doing. That shows the greatness of the club.

Minnesota United FC head coach Adrian Heath

On the team's defensive performance...

We obviously never came to terms with their wide guy coming inside and the fullback going wide. We allowed them too much space to do that. They put too many balls in our box. We are not good enough on the road to defend like we've done tonight and I'm not using the back four as an excuse. I'm using the four or five in front of them, as well. I thought it was too easy for them to get into dangerous areas and then we didn't defend the box particularly well all evening. I thought we made the change at halftime, which we had to do, and I thought we started the second half quite well. Even though it's 3-1, you're thinking if you get the next goal you can make a game of it. Obviously, the sending off for Maximiniano was the killer blow for us. After that, it was a case of can we keep it down because I thought they were always lively on the break.

On the traveling support...

I'm disappointed for them. I certainly felt more confident with this group this evening than I did this time last year. I can think back at the game and I don't think we had any opportunities last year. At least tonight, even in the first half, I thought we looked dangerous on the counter attack. Our final ball wasn't good enough at times. But we're very brittle on the road. We're conceding too many goals to try and win games. I don't think mentally we're very tough on the road because wherever you are, you'll have stretches in the game where you're going to be under the cosh and invariably when we're under the cosh for any period of time, we look like we're going to concede goals. We have to address that. The one thing it's proved again this evening is that we've got a long way to go. We're not good enough at this moment in time. We have to keep trying to chip away at the squad and bring in some people in the next window to try and make it better. That's what we'll try and do.

On the ejection of Maximiniano...

In his determination to want to impress, I don't think he gave the referee much alternative to send him off. It was so open and blatant. And he doesn't really need to go and try to win the ball. He's goal side. He could have let him come and run into him anyway. He doesn't need to make the foul. He doesn't need to make the challenge. And I don't think he gave the referee much alternative then to send him off.

On his halftime substitution...

Down that left hand side, whether it was a lack of communication I don't know, you can't allow Graham Zusi - whose played most of his life in the attacking third - the amount of time and space that we did. I just thought that if we got another body in the midfield, that would allow the wide guy to get a little bit closer to him. I thought the change helped us. We looked as though we had started the second half well. With the sending off after that and being down to 10 men, it affected everything after that.

On preparing for a mid-week match at FC Cincinnati...

We're going from here to Cincinnati tomorrow and then we have to get ourselves prepared for a game. It's an Open Cup game. We know what's coming away. It's not going to be a shock what's coming away. It's going to be a big crowd on the back of their announcement last week. They're going to be after it, as they were last year when they went all the way to the semifinals. It's going to be a tough night. We have to be ready for it.

On roster selection for Open Cup...

We'll find out how everybody is in the morning to see if anybody has any knocks. I don't really know where we are if everybody is fit and healthy. We'll see.

On the World Cup break...

It will give us time to assess where the season is and what we need to do to get back and move on. Obviously, as I said, it's quite apparent that we need to get better. Certainly at home, we're more than competitive. Away from home that's not been the case yet and we have to change that.

On solving defensive dilemmas...

At this moment in time, we need to sit down and go through it with the staff and look at the videos and look at the goals we've conceded and see if we can come up with a different shape or do something different to make it better. At the moment, every time we go a goal down - and we got back in it today - but as soon as they scored the second, now let's see if we can see it through to halftime and we don't look like we're capable of doing that. I've said it probably three or four times this year, if you keep conceding two or three goals on the road, you ain't going to win too many games. That was the case this evening.

On the play in midfield...

Because of the set up that we had, I didn't think that we ever got enough pressure on their three men in midfield. They have the two attacking guys and then they have Ilie Sanchez who comes in there. We never really go to grips with that like we did a couple weeks ago at home. I know it's away from home and they obviously are a lot more confident, but we didn't do a good job of that. The wide guys kept coming in and then they get it wide to Zusi and we never came to terms. That's why we put an extra body in there and I thought it sort of stemmed the flow a little bit. In hindsight, we might have started with that but hindsight is very easy.

On playing away at Sporting KC...

Certainly coming here, they make it really, really difficult for the opposition. They play nearly a five and a five. Their front five push and press. And if your quality is not good enough to break that initial press - and it's strange, because every time we did we were dangerous in the first half. We had two or three really good breakaways. The final ball wasn't particularly good but if you're going to come here and get a result, when you have your moments you have to make them. Because they just keep coming and they keep coming. Tonight, certainly after we had the guy sent off, we weren't able to stem the flow.

Minnesota United FC defender Brent Kallman

Thoughts on the match...

I think we were second best tonight. We didn't win enough first balls and we definitely didn't win enough second balls. We were a little too easy to play through tonight. In the first half, it seemed like every one of their possessions ended in our box. When they get down over and over again in our box, eventually bad things are going to happen. We've got to do a better job of standing them up and keeping them away from our box.

On his performance...

I felt good about the way that I played in the box but some of my clearances weren't good enough. Those are dangerous when you clear a ball and then the ball knocks down to the next level and they've got guys there waiting to shoot. The clearances have got to be better. I felt alright on the ball but we didn't have the ball enough as a team. We were a little bit shaky with it. We gave the ball away a lot. I think in possession we've got to do a little bit better.

On his partnerships on the backline...

They caused me and Eric (Miller) a lot of problems on the left side. They'd run one in between and then bring Graham Zusi high so we were trying to sort that out in the first half. He's somebody I'm obviously very familiar with so it's a good relationship. And then with (Michael Boxall), I thought it was good. He's a beast. He's easy to play with and easy to defend with.

On turning attention to Open Cup...

The game's done. We've just got to let it go. Everybody's got to recover because you don't know who he's going to choose for Wednesday so everyone just has to do their best to recover and be available for selection.

On going into the break with a positive performance on Wednesday...

I think it's huge. We've got a big break coming up. I know me personally, I'm looking forward to the break. I know a lot of the guys are so all the focus is on this next game. We know that we have days off afterward so there's no excuses. Everybody has got to be focused on Wednesday.

On addressing the goals conceded...

I think the physical battles, we weren't good enough in. Those are things you can control, winning 50/50 balls. I don't think we were good enough, especially on the first one and definitely on the second one. It seemed like everything got knocked down, they were first to. We've got to do a better job of that - challenging for the first one and everybody has got to be on their toes for when the next ball falls down. We've got to pick it up.

Minnesota United FC captain Michael Boxall

On the match...

The performance was nowhere near good enough and I think this is a team we showed we could do it at home, it's easy when we've got the crowd behind us, but on the road it's just not good enough. There's a lot of tough places to play on the road, this being one of them, and if you don't show the balls here to do the defensive side of things and then be brave enough on the ball to keep it, then you don't stand a chance.

On wearing the captain's armband and trying to right the ship...

It's just nowhere near good enough. It's a lesson for me where there's some things I need to do more as a leader to get the team, when I know we're not performing, to the level that we have to be at to make our traveling fans proud of us and we were nowhere near that tonight.

On his centerback partnership with Brent Kallman...

I thought Brent was outstanding, first half particularly. He was just getting in the way of everything and did his job superbly, but when we were giving them as much of the ball as we did - if you give a team that much ball over the 45 minutes they're going to find a way and they certainly did.

On turning the page to the U.S. Open Cup match against FC Cincinnati...

That's probably a good thing that we have a quick turnaround where we can't dwell on tonight. Quick turnaround, travel day tomorrow, and obviously we need a massive response after tonight. I just feel so bad for our fans who traveled all this way and came and saw that.

On if the World Cup break is coming at a good time...

After tonight you'd think so, but then you want to head into those breaks on a good note, so we've got to win on Wednesday because it just feels disgusting right now - not exactly the result, but just the performance where we just sold ourselves way short of where we should be.

On if something felt different tonight compared to the rest of the season...

Not really. I think we started a little slow, again, but after that we settled and kept the ball a lot better and especially when Ty(rone Mears) scored that banger, I thought we were back in it - we were able to keep the ball better than we were but then we just kind of went back into our shells again and let them overrun us and they're a good side, they do the right things, and they did that.

On the mentality after the red card...

The tactical changes that the gaffer made at halftime definitely suited us for this game and I think we matched up with Luis (Maximiano) in there, we matched up in midfield pretty well, and I didn't think our second goal was too far away, once we get that then we're really in the hunt to get some points from today but as soon as that happens it deflates you a little bit but you've just got to keep going.


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