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Sporting KC Suffers 1-0 Loss at Real Salt Lake

May 4, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Sporting Kansas City News Release

Sporting Kansas City (2-4-5, 11 points) suffered a 1-0 loss on the road at Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake (6-2-3, 18 points) on Saturday. Former MLS Newcomer of the Year Cristian Arango headed home his ninth goal of the season on a free kick from Brayan Vera in the 81st minute to extend RSL's unbeaten run to seven straight matches.

Continuing a three-game road trip, Manager Peter Vermes was without four key contributors - Logan Ndenbe (ACL), Dany Rosero (quad), Remi Walter (knee) and Nemanja Radoja (illness) - and made six changes to Sporting Kansas City's starting lineup from last week's away match in Minnesota as John Pulskamp and Marinos Tzionis each made their first appearances of the year on Saturday.

The opening 45 minutes ended in a scoreless stalemate despite both sides threatening throughout the first half. Real Salt Lake nearly grabbed an early lead from a corner kick in the second minute however Justen Glad's header was directed narrowly wide of the target.

Johnny Russell, who returned to the XI after recovering from a hamstring injury that kept the Scottish winger out of the starting lineup for the past six matches, responded with a chance of his own in the 18th minute. The club captain dribbled dangerously into the penalty area and skipped past one defender before flashing a shot just beyond the far post.

Russell would come close again in the 34th minute on a Sporting KC counter attack. Daniel Salloi carried the ball forward on the left flank and did well to pick out Russell's run down the opposite channel, but the veteran's sliding shot carried over the crossbar.

Making his first MLS appearance since March 25, 2023, Pulskamp recorded two saves in the first half with the second coming moments before the intermission when the 23-year-old palmed away a well-struck shot taken by 21-year-old Andres Gomez from the corner of the penalty area.

Pulskamp would be called into action again less than 10 minutes into the second half and produced a superb foot save in the 54th minute to deny Gomez once more. The Colombian winger continued to assert himself in the 78th minute -- 10 minutes after Tim Leibold had come to the rescue with a goal-saving intervention to deflect a point-blank attempt from Diego Luna -- and was inches from opening the scoring if not for a phenomenal fingertip save from Pulskamp to push the shot into the post.

Real Salt Lake would ultimately break the deadlock in the 81st minute as Arango scored the game-winning goal with a header that looped beyond the reach of Pulskamp and settled into the back of the net despite the best efforts at a goalline clearance from Robert Voloder. Arango now has scored or assisted on 16 of his team's 18 goals this season and he leads all Western Conference players in both goals (9) and assists (7).

On the opposite end, Real Salt Lake - which leads the league with only nine goals conceded in the first 11 matches of the season -- held Sporting Kansas City without a shot on goal after the 30th minute.

Sporting Kansas City will now turn the team's attention to the U.S. Open Cup as the club travels to play Union Omaha at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Caniglia Field on the campus of University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Round of 32 match will be streamed live on and radio coverage will air locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB in English and La Grande 1340 AM in Spanish.


Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes

On Sporting's 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake...

I think the difference in the game was a set piece, unfortunately. Up until they scored their goal, we had some chances. They had a few. But again, the difference in the game is set piece. That's how I sum up the game.

On Memo Rodriguez playing as a defensive midfielder...

He was good. He actually played a really good game. Radoja was sick so we had to make a change last minute, but he did a really good job, I thought.

On Marinos Tzionis playing in the midfield...

That's not his normal spot. We had an idea where we wanted to try to try to exploit something within the game. We did it a few times but he hasn't played a lot, so he was a little bit tired there at halftime. We have some guys who don't play on a regular basis. So we were really trying to keep a little freshness. That's why we brought in Felipe Hernandez in the second half.

On goalkeeper John Pulskamp making his first start of the season...

We had this (planned) before that we were going to do this. And Tim is dealing with something a little bit. So the timing is right for him to get a little bit of a rest. John is going to continue to keep getting games like he has in the past as well, because we're just trying to keep him going, and we have the Open Cup coming as well.

On the chances created by both teams and SKC's defending...

I think the game was fairly even. There wasn't any crazy stuff. We had a couple counter attacks here and there. They had a couple of chances here and there. It always seems a little bit bigger because if they have a chance and it's even remotely close, their crowd's going to be into it. So I'm talking about the actual chances in the game. There wasn't a ton in that regard. We actually played a good game. But again, the game is not just defending through the run of play, it's also set pieces. We shouldn't have given up the set piece where we did. There was no reason to. But then also defending it. I say this all the time. You have got to be able to defend, whether it's through the run of play or set pieces. We obviously didn't do that on the set piece.

Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper John Pulskamp

On Sporting's performance in the loss...

The result hurts, obviously-to concede late and to lose a game 1-0 when you were defending well. I thought that was definitely the positive from this game. We were defending so well on the ball. It's a tough place to play, right? You come to Salt Lake and it's one of the harder away games on the schedule every year. But to come in and defend the way we were, especially considering some recent form, that that was a big positive. To concede late on a set piece in that fashion, it just stinks. It hurts.

On the Real Salt Lake goal late in the match...

It's just a collective effort, right? I will always look at my end first. I'm a pretty self-critical guy. I'm proud of the game I've played, so I'm always going to look at my end first. My left foot slips a little bit as I'm pushing to go to that ball. And it just checked up on the grass and it bounced up so high, I couldn't get there. From the team perspective, we have just got to be more aggressive on these set pieces. Don't foul anybody, but don't be afraid to be physical with runners. We need to have more intensity to defend the box on set pieces. We just give up too many free looks in the box off crosses and set pieces.

On learning from Peter Vermes he would play in the match...

Last week (Peter) pulled me aside and let me know I'd be getting a game. It's been a while since I've played a league game. So obviously I'm happy to get back out there in an MLS match. It's what I'm striving for and working hard for every day. I want the job and I want to be out there week in and week out. And as for putting the result behind me, look, you're going to lose games. You're going to have dips in form. You're going to have good runs and you're going to have not so good runs. Right now we're working on figuring out how to secure points in games-to secure leads when we have them and and close out games like this. Salt Lake is a tough place to play. It would have been a massive result. But just because we didn't get the result doesn't mean we throw out everything. Not all losses are the same. They might be the same in terms of points, but they're not all the same in terms of looking at the performance. There was improvement in a lot of areas tonight, and I don't think that should go unrecognized.

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