Connect with us

Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City claim playoff berth on MLS Decision Day

On MLS Decision Day 2023, Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, KS, was a dream for both Sporting Kansas City fans and Minnesota United fans.



Thad Bell Photography

On MLS Decision Day 2023, Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, was a dream for both Sporting Kansas City fans and Minnesota United fans. It was the beautiful game on a beautiful night with everything on the line: a win and the playoffs are on the table, pending other results; a draw or a loss, and your dreams crumble into a nightmare as the table breaks down in front of your very eyes. No one was going home or turning off the television untouched.

The context brought to mind the well-known words of Scottish Footballer Bill Shankly: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

And in the end, what transpired in Kansas City – and in Los Angeles and Portland and San Jose – meant life for Kansas City. Driven by Erik Thommy’s energy, Daniel Salloi’s two assists, and Captain Johnny Russell’s two goals, Sporting earned a playoff berth in front of its faithful and vocal supporters.

The lineup was what many of the Sporting Kansas City faithful expected and hoped for. What would be the outcome?

For fans and stakeholders alike, the next 90 minutes plus meant… Excitation. Consternation. The possibility of Elation. The certainty of Evaluation. Definite Realization. And possible Redemption and Affirmation, or Damnation.

Every inkling of a chance for Sporting brought roars of anticipation, every clever move an exclamation in the early going. The fans were here to party.

Erik Thommy brought his party shoes, instigating and infiltrating multiple times, trying to ignite an early lead. A shove into Thommy’s back near the 9th minute went without a call, possibly portending what was on the referee’s mind. ‘Let them play’… time would tell.

Meanwhile, as Sporting gave up balls needlessly in the midfield, FC Dallas grabbed an early lead at Los Angeles Galaxy, showing no signs of faltering as both Kansas City and Minnesota needed them, or Portland Timbers, or San Jose Earthquakes to.

Not Thommy, but winger Daniel Salloi lifted a subtle chip over the Minnesota defense to put Thommy eight yards in front of goal and to the left in the 15th minute. Yet, Thommy’s low attempt skidded harmlessly across the front of United and Dayne St. Clair’s goal.

Meanwhile… Portland Timbers fell down one to the visiting Houston Dynamo, while FC Dallas went up two. Shortly after, San Jose Earthquakes, hosting Austin FC, took an early 1-0 hold on their match.

Sporting’s attacking intent flashed again in the 26th minute on a Thommy counter and then a Salloi diagonal run into Minnesota’s box from a Johnny Russell feed. The match and the fans settled in as the tension began to rise even this early.

Then in the 28th, Russell lit the fire. Cutting left on his mark just inside the right edge of the attacking 18, the Scot struck far post past St. Clair and into the hearts of the fans. Sporting’s 1-0 lead coincided with the Galaxy pulling back one against FC Dallas.

Three minutes later, the fire burst into a conflagration. Deep on the left and just outside United’s box, Salloi juked right, went left, and served for Remi Walter steaming down the middle of the box. Walter’s foot beat his mark to the ball, and Sporting was up 2-0.

Meanwhile… in this increasingly crazy MLS Decision Day, Dallas had restored their two-goal lead and Austin FC had drawn level with San Jose.

At the half, Sporting was in the 8th (of 9) playoff spot on the 2-0 lead and Portland and San Jose dropping points. For the match in front of them, Kansas City had outshot Minnesota 7-3, despite possession being even.

The Loons made two changes at the half, signaling a probable all-out attacking binge to get back in the match and wrestle away Kansas City’s playoff spot. Curiously, South African attacker Bongakuhle Hlangwane remained on United’s bench.

Mirroring Sporting’s 2-0 lead, Houston had taken a 2-0 lead over Portland Timbers, while Dallas had gone up three. Thus, it would take four goals to chase Sporting out of a playoff spot at this juncture.

Sporting navigated the first 20 minutes of the 2nd half ably, keeping Minnesota at bay and mildly threatening on the other end. United’s interim coach Sean McAuley finally inserted Hlangwane into the fray in the 67th minute as their hopes continued to fade.

Thommy, Sporting’s clear talisman on the night, was replaced by Gadi Kinda in the 76th minute.

Two minutes later, Russell, pressuring United’s Michael Boxall, block Boxall’s attempted clearance, and found net with a quick touch as St. Clair was anticipating the long boot up field. The goal was Russell’s second in the match, and his eighth on the season.

However, Boxall would gain an ounce of redemption with a headed goal in the 82nd minute to give his side a fighting chance.

In the end, the drama of the evening was inside Children’s Mercy Park, as it should have been, as Kansas City finished out the match still on the attack and solid enough on defense.

From a 0-7-3 start, Sporting Kansas City had finished the season with a record of 12-7-5. A successful season? The debate remains: Redemption? Affirmation? Maybe. Satisfaction, definitely.

As 8th place finishers in MLS’s Western Conference, Sporting will host the play-in match versus San Jose Earthquakes Wednesday evening. The victor will tackle top-seeded St. Louis CITY in a best-of-three series, beginning, perhaps Saturday.

Sporting Kansas City’s victory was more than just a game for team, owners, fans because it is times like this, and moments like these, that make life worth living… when one is able to feel the gamut of human emotion, without life and death consequences, no matter the outcome.


Recent Comments

KC Soccer Journal in your Inbox!

Be the first to know when news breaks, sign up to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.


Follow us on Twitter