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Sporting Suffers Late Loss to Minnesota

July 13, 2020 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Sporting Kansas City News Release

Sporting Kansas City (2-1-0, 6 points) surrendered a late lead in a 2-1 defeat to Minnesota United FC (3-0-0, 9 points) on Sunday in the club's MLS is Back Tournament opener at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Walt Disney World.

Forward Khiry Shelton fired Sporting ahead on the cusp of halftime, but the Loons struck twice in second-half stoppage time with an own goal and a last-gasp winner from Kevin Molino after goalkeeper Tim Melia received a red card in the 74th minute to reduce Sporting to 10 men.

Sunday's clash, which pitted two teams that began the 2020 MLS regular season with consecutive wins, gives Minnesota early pole position in Group D of the MLS is Back Tournament, which will see the top two or three finishers in the four-team group advance to the knockout rounds later this month. Sporting will look to rebound Friday at 7 p.m. CT when they face longtime rivals Colorado Rapids on ESPN2.

With his team returning to competitive action for the first time in 127 days, Manager Peter Vermes made one lineup change from Sporting's first two victories to open the campaign. Gerso Fernandes earned his first start of the season, replacing Johnny Russell as part of a three-man attack alongside Shelton and Alan Pulido. In defense, right back Graham Zusi notably recorded his 300th career MLS appearance for Sporting, becoming one of 12 active MLS players to reach the milestone.

A dominant first half display saw Sporting conjure their first clear chance in the 15th minute when Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller touched an out-swinging Luis Martins corner kick only as far as Ilie Sanchez, who volleyed marginally wide on the right side of the box. Shortly thereafter, Gadi Kinda latched onto Graham Zusi's delicious cross from the right flank and hammered inches high on his first touch.

Minnesota mustered a single shot attempt in the first 45 minutes, with midfielder Jan Gregus unleashing a venomous 35-yard drive that Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia did well to tip over the crossbar with his fingertips.

The Loons quickly reverted to the backfoot as Sporting's Roger Espinoza almost opened the scoring twice in quick succession. In the 36th minute, Kinda settled a cutback pass from Gerso and teed up Espinoza, whose curling effort near the top of the penalty area was pushed aside by the diving Miller. On Martins' ensuing corner, the Honduran glanced a header just wide of the far right post.

Shelton lifted Sporting into a deserved lead two minutes before the break, rounding off a fluid counter-attack to break the deadlock. Pulido's superb move past Minnesota captain Michael Boxall at midfield gave Sporting a numerical advantage in the attacking half, and the Mexican spread the ball right to Shelton who slotted low inside the near post for his second goal of the season.

The game's complexion changed during the final half-hour, much to the chagrin of a Sporting outfit that controlled the first 60 minutes. The Loons thought they had equalized in the 63rd minute, but Molino was deemed to be offside after a VAR stoppage to wipe away Ethan Finlay's would-be equalizer. Five minutes later, substitute Aaron Schoenfeld rattled the woodwork with a shot from the left side of the box.

Schoenfeld made a further impact in the 74th minute, racing behind the Sporting defense and crashing to the turf following a challenge from Melia. Sporting's keeper was ejected for the foul-his first red card since 2014-prompting the introduction of Richard Sanchez for his club debut.

The Loons wasted a chance to level terms in the 90th minute when Hassani Dotson's point-blank diving header floated off target, but parity was restored two minutes later on an unfortunate Shelton own goal after Gregus whipped a teasing free kick into the crowded penalty area.

With momentum on their side, Minnesota grabbed a 97th-minute winner to deny Sporting a result and continue their perfect start to the season. Raheem Edwards and Romain Metanire were involved in a buildup that culminated with Molino hammering low into the corner from the penalty spot.


Sporting Kansas City Manager & Sporting Director Peter Vermes

On how much of a letdown it was to control so much of the game and still lose:

"We had control of the game, we had some good chances - we should've probably put a second, maybe even a third away - we didn't. We allowed them in the game, we made some bad decisions. Unfortunately what happens is you lose a goalkeeper, you now have to take a player off to replace a goalkeeper, it changes things around quite a bit. It just changed the game. There's a lot of good stuff from the game for us, but at the same time unfortunately we didn't close it out. We can get better from this game, we've got to learn from it and move on to the next one."

On Tim Melia's red card and how it impacted the game:

"It's a red card, from the rules. It definitely changed the game, in a lot of ways. We haven't played a game for 127 days and now you're asking the guys that have just come down into heat, they haven't played any games, come into heat and now be down a man for quite some time in the game. We weren't ready for it and like I said it changed things in that when the goalkeeper has to go out and now you've got to take a player off, put a goalkeeper on, now your subs are definitely changed as well. It was hard, it was hard for the guys to find themselves at that moment. We tried to do a good job of closing out the game as much as we can, we got it to about 80-something minutes but we just couldn't hold on."

On the substitution tactics in the second half:

On the Johnny (Russell) sub - we were thinking we were probably going to have to change both of our wingers, because they were going to be under a lot of strain and stress in the game. We just felt that we'd find a lot of the game there and they'd have to cover a lot of ground. So that was to be expected.

The problem is, right after that, we were probably going to make another sub. And then next thing you know, Timmy gets thrown out. The problem with that is now you've got to sub a goalkeeper in but you've also got to take a player off to do that. That kind of changed everything around quite a bit. The guys were tired at that moment. What happened was, I only wanted to do one (change) at that moment to kind of settle the team down with the goalkeeper. What it did was it left us with one last sub (opportunity) and if we're going to put three, then we're going to put three on. I just felt that we needed to get fresh legs and I didn't want to push those other guys. I still think it was the right decision. I have all the confidence in the world that the rest of those guys can play and do the job, it's just that we should have put the game away a lot earlier and not have been in that position.

On if the team felt a sense of déjà vu from 2019:

Not at all. It's more of the fact that we were very well in control of the game. It's the first game back after 127 days and to have to go down a man and try to hold on from there was just a little difficult for the guys when we're already not game fit yet. We're just going to have to build from here for a physical perspective.

On conceding twice in stoppage time:

I was just was a little bit disappointed in the fact that we couldn't finish off the chances and get a second goal. We had chances, but we didn't take them well enough. Obviously, it came back to haunt us at the end of the game. That's what happens in games like this sometimes. You play well. You own the game. All of a sudden, you have a couple moments and the game is against you.

On playing with no fans in attendance:

It definitely is a different environment. It's a little bit surreal. It feels a lot like an MLS preseason game when you don't really have much of a crowd there. It feels very similar. There's no doubt that that's a big part of the environment. Everyone has got to play with it right now and the best thing is that at least we're on the field.

On finishing off the team's chances:

We had good opportunities. Whether you haven't played a lot of games or not, you always want to try and finish those. Unfortunately, we didn't today. And they found a way back into the game so you've got to credit Minnesota. They found a way back in. For us, we had some really good opportunities and we didn't (finish). That was the difference in the game.

On the insertion of Aaron Schoenfeld:

I think he came on and brought some good energy for them, but I don't think it was anything over the top - that's for sure. We knew they were playing a lot of long balls. They weren't playing out of the back all that much. They started playing a little bit when we went down a man but before that, everything was basically long and out of the back. That's why we had the ball as much as we did. We had good pressure up front and we were in good positions to win those balls back. But once we went down a man, it changed the game all the way around.

On how the team handled a positive COVID-19 test:

At first, everybody was a little bit taken back and surprised. We've been in this place before where we had a false positive so we weren't sure which way it was going. When it got definitely was a little bit of a shot to the guys. But the next day they were fine. They were right back at it. It was really only for a few hours. To be fair, the guys have committed themselves and been very disciplined throughout this whole process. I've said all along that players are going to get it, people are going to get it. It's just how do you react from it and I thought the guys did a good job in dealing with it. I don't think it had any effect on us today.

On the play of Alan Pulido:

He continues to be a bright spot for us. On that goal that we scored, his intelligence with his back to the field is fantastic. He really smelled that the player was coming hard, flicks the ball around him and just gives a great ball to Khiry. Khiry did a fantastic job with the finish just from the point of the view that he faked like he was going to go far post and he went near and scored himself. Alan was very good. I just wanted to kind of save him at the end of the game because I felt like we needed to get some fresh legs out onto the field.

On the team's reaction to adversity amidst the new circumstances:

I don't think those two things correlate. Once you're on the field, you forget about everything else. You can see it from every game that is being played. As much as the guys are competitive and everybody wants to compete, I think the big thing is that a lot of the teams are trying to get fit in a very, very different climate then they're used to for the most part. From that point of view, it was difficult and when we got the guy thrown out - it was the difference in the game.

On SKC playing to protect the 1-0 lead rather than build upon it:

I wouldn't agree. I thought that we were trying to get forward. I think that we still created some good chances. The difference is that we didn't score them. Unfortunately, we were in a place where we had a couple really good ones. Alan was down on the left hand side of the goal, running across the line and played a ball backwards. That has to turn into a chance on goal. We had a lot of different opportunities in and around the box. We just never really stuck anything away. That kept them in the game and gave them confidence.

Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler

On how much the red card changed the game:

"That changed the game, we felt like we were in control for the most part but we weren't able to put the game away and we left the door open for something like that to happen. That's on us that we weren't able to put the game away and we have to move on and get better from it."

On Richard Sanchez stepping in for his debut following the red card:

"Obviously it's different, there's a different person in goal, but we have the utmost confidence in Richard. He's shown a really high ability to play, he had a great preseason for us and got a lot of minutes. We have confidence in him, he's going to have to play next game. We have to move on and get points out of our next game."

On how the game changed when Aaron Schoenfeld entered the game for Minnesota:

"We knew going in that in this tournament there's five substitutions and this is our first game in a while, so we knew that there was going to be subs coming on and fresh legs coming into the game. We dominated the majority of the game possession-wise but we weren't able to put the game away, and when you're not able to do that, crazy stuff - like the last 10 minutes - can happen to you."

On how the positive COVID-19 test earlier in the week affected the team:

"Our mentality and preparation didn't change. We were focused on the game and we were excited to compete again. It's been a while since we were able to play a game against a different opponent. We made sure to follow all the protocols that are in place, we did everything that we needed to do and we prepared like we normally would for a game."

On if the game felt weird being in a tournament in Orlando with no fans in attendance:

"It's completely different than anything we've ever done because there's no fans and we've never done a tournament like this. I can't really compare it to anything else or relate to it. It's a new experience for everyone, we have to keep going. Our objective going into this tournament was to try and win all three of our group games and then win the tournament. We have to move on from this first game and we have to go try and win the second game."

Sporting Kansas City forward Khiry Shelton

On scoring the opener and returning to the field:

"I feel great, but I'm frustrated right now. We should've won the game, so I'm left with some frustration. We could've done better in areas but we'll go back to film and we'll fix those."

On the psychological hit of receiving a red card when on the front foot:

"It's tough, we just didn't put our chances away. I feel like we had a lot of chances that we could've put away and we didn't do that. It changes the game. After that, they get that first goal, we're down a man. It's tough, it's not easy."

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