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Sporting KC advance to Leagues Cup knockout rounds with 1-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara

SKC advances to Leagues Cup knockout round



Pulskamp smothers a chance for Chivas | Credit: Thad Bell

Chivas de Guadalajara and Sporting Kansas City met in the deciding match for Leagues Cup Group Central 3 on a breezy Monday night in Kansas City. With FC Cincinnati safely topping the group with an outright win over Chivas and a PK shootout win over Sporting KC, the final match of the Leagues Cup group stages had high stakes.

Chivas was well represented by their supporters who packed the South Stand and a large portion of the East Stand with their signature red and white striped kits. Sporting Kansas City fielded a mostly first choice lineup, missing holding midfielder Nemanja Radoja and designated player, Alan Pulido, due to a red card suspension. John Pulskamp got the start in goal but for the first time in seemingly forever, Tim Melia made the matchday roster on the bench. Willy Agada also made the matchday bench but questions lingered about how many minutes he may have in his legs.

Felipe Gutierrez, Gadi Kinda, and Remi Walter made up the engine room for Sporting Kansas City with Khiry Shelton, Erik Thommy, and Johnny Russell leading the attack. Along the back line, Sporting fielded the standard back four of Tim Leibold, Andreu Fontas, Dany Rosero, and Jake Davis.


The early moments of the match saw Thommy playing the 9 and Chivas pressing hard. The first half chance of the match came in the third minute when Khiry Shelton slid in a low cross to a charging Gadi Kinda, only for it to be cleared just before the Israeli midfielder could get to the ball. Shortly after, Sporting pressed Chivas into a turnover that led to a Johnny Russell cross that was again cleared away without much danger. Through the first five minutes, Sporting maintained the bulk of possession but none of it was dangerous. In the 6th minute, Chivas strung together some beautiful passing to try to create a chance in the box. The ball was eventually cleared but possession was returned right back to Chivas and they took a blistering shot from the top corner of the box that just missed Pulskamp’s goal wide left.

Sporting earned the first corner kick of the match and in the 8th minute, Gadi Kinda whipped a ball into the middle of the box. It found the feet of Johnny Russell but he could only recycle possession and wasn’t able to convert the chance into a shot.

The game settled into a comfortable flow where Sporting maintained the bulk of the possession while Chivas chose to pick moments to hit a hard press and force a dangerous moment in transition. Sporting earned a second corner kick in the 12th minute but Kinda’s service was unable to find anyone in a blue shirt and the ball rolled out for a Sporting KC throw in. In the 14th minute Tim Leibold put a Chivas defender on skates with a big touch into the box from the left wing before crossing the ball into the box. Shouts for a foul and penalty kick in the box arose without a call after Chivas hit Leibold with a crunching tackle. Eventually the ball settled to Johnny Russell who struck it on a half volley and shot just over the crossbar. Despite the argument for a foul in the box for a late, hard tackle, the VAR and center official chose not to flag the play for video review.

Sporting looked dangerous again moments later when Khiry Shelton won the ball in the midfield and made a strong, driving diagonal run before sliding a ball to Felipe Gutierrez. Guti took a clever touch but wasn’t able to get around the Chivas defender and the ball was collected by the Goats’ keeper. A Dany Rosero turnover in the 20th minute led to a dangerous chance for Chivas at the top of the box, but Tim Leibold’s quick feet poked the ball away and allowed Sporting KC to clear the ball.

Another bad defensive turnover from the defense led to a potential chance for Chivas but the ball was won back by a clean shoulder to shoulder tackle from Gadi Kinda. As Chivas fans loudly protested, Sporting KC drove forward but was unable to muster a shot.

A beautiful 1-2 between Johnny and Kinda in the 25th minute led to Sporting Kansas City’s first shot on goal as Kinda slipped through the defense for a 1 v 1 with the keeper. His shot didn’t have much on it and was eventually cleared off the goal line by the Chivas defense.

Sporting KC opened the scoring first in the 27th minute with a Johnny Russell laser into the corner netting. Gadi Kinda whipped in a cross to the middle of the box. Erik Thommy attempted a bicycle kick but whiffed on his attempt and the ball fell to the Kansas City captain’s feet. He clinically and coolly finished to put the “visiting” home team up 1-0.

Russell looked to bag a brace only minutes later as he cut in from the left side and launched another rocket at the goal that ultimately found the outside of the netting. In the 31st minute, Chivas earned their first corner kick of the game. Wide plater, Roberto Alvarado, played it short and low. Two Chivas players found themselves on the turf but the center official kept his whistle in his pocket and Sporting worked the ball out of danger.

A perfectly weighted through ball found Erik Thommy streaking towards goal. He held the ball up and eventually worked it to the right wing where Sporting earned a free kick a mere few yards outside the box. Johnny Russell and Erik Thommy stood over the set piece with Russell making an attempt on goal. His shot flew just high and harmlessly dropped into the Cauldron for a Chivas goal kick.

In the 40th minute, Khiry Shelton drew a foul in the midfield but was able to find Felipe. The referee played advantage while Gutierrez and Thommy played a 1-2 that led to Gutierrez making an attacking run into the box. His shot was blocked and was eventually cleared out for a throw in.

Sporting continued to press the attack, looking for a second goal before halftime. The team continued to find the ball in dangerous places, with passes pinging between Thommy and Kinda before losing the final ball.

As the half blew to a close, Sporting Kansas City maintained their 1-0 lead. Sporting maintained 71 percent of the possession, with 10 shots (two on goal), 400 passes with 92% passing accuracy. The Liga MX hosts had three shots (one on goal), 165 passes with 82% passing accuracy. They led with 27 duels to 15, seven tackles to four, and had three fouls to Chivas’ six.


Neither side made any changes to start the second half. In the 48th minute, Erik Thommy made a strong run across the top of the box. Whether on purpose or by accident, Gadi Kinda took the ball off Thommy’s foot and attempted to backheel him in behind for a chance. Unfortunately, the ball was intercepted and cleared away.

Sporting found their best chance of the second half early on when Gadi Kinda found a streaking Johnny Russell on the left wing. Kinda put a perfect ball to Johnny’s boot but his shot flew high over the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. The first yellow card of the night came in the 56th minute after a challenge from Erick Gutierrez on Gadi Kinda. After a rather physical game with a lot of contact being

In the 57th minute, Chivas Manager, Veljko Paunovic subbed in forward Juan Brigido for Alexis Vega. The next phase of attacking play saw Sporting pushing hard to score a second goal with Jake Davis finding himself in and around the box. In the 62nd minute, Peter Vermes made his first chess move by substituting veteran Roger Espinoza for Felipe Gutierrez.

In the 66th minute, Chivas made a double switch in the midfield with Erick Gutierrez being replaced by Pavel Perez and Victor Guzman being replaced by Johnathan Padilla. Immediately after the substitutions, Gadi Kinda earned a yellow card against defender Antonio Briseno with some strong hold up play. A long searching ball briefly found the head of Khiry Shelton in the box but he was bracketed by two defenders and was unable to bring the ball down. As the game moved into the 69th minute, the Chivas supporters came to life again with a loud chant hoping to will their team to level the game.

In the 71st minute, Khiry Shelton and Erik Thommy played a 1-2 that found Thommy in the box but he was unable to convert the chance into a shot. Jake Davis gave away a set piece deep on the left wing in Sporting Kansas City territory in the 73rd minute. The ensuing set piece was headed out of the box but SKC was unable to clear their lines. Chivas took a long shot from distance on the left wing but it was eaten up by the big arms of John Pulskamp. Another long distance shot in the 74th minute skidded across the end line harmlessly.

Sporting immediately followed that chance with a substitution, replacing Khiry Shelton with the homegrown winger, Daniel Salloi. As the match clock clicked away into the final fifteen minutes, Sporting KC began to slow things down, looking to kill off the clock and earn a result that would have them advancing into the knockout rounds.

Chivas made their final two substitutions of the match, looking for find the impact players to change the match. In the 78th minute, striker Ricardo Marin made way for forward Ronaldo Cisneros and fullback Alan Mozo was replaced by midfielder Isaac Brizuela.

Sporting KC continued to drain the clock by taking every second of each goalkick and throw in. Sporting KC had a nervous moment in defense as the match entered its final stages. A cross pinged around in the box before finding a Chivas player at the top of the box. His shot flew above the cross bar and out for a goal kick but not before giving hope to the “home” team and striking fear into the Kansas City fans’ hearts. In the 84th minute, after a long throw in, Chivas earned a corner kick. Their set piece was struck into the center of the box but Gadi Kinda was able to briefly clear it to allow the defense to reset. After Roger Espinoza and Erik Thommy combined to keep the ball in play along the ride touch line, Thommy earned a yellow card after Christian Calderon came in hard with a late, reckless challenge. Immediately thereafter, a member of the Chivas technical staff was carded for dissent.

Chivas attempted to press forward, but Sporting KC’s high press stepped up and made things difficult for the Liga MX side, eventually forcing a turnover. With only three minutes plus stoppage time left in the match, SKC was focused on maintaining possession and only striking when a strong chance arose. Substitute, Daniel Salloi, took a touch in the midfield and found himself open for a strike from outside the box. His heavy shot was parried wide and went out for a corner kick. The ensuing corner was played short between Thommy and Kinda and was eventually launched deep into the South Stand for a goal kick.

As play entered the 90th minute, Chivas floated in a hopeful ball over the top. It fell just past the outstretched legs of the Chivas striker and into the arms of John Pulskamp. Not to be deterred, Chivas came again at the Sporting KC goal, with a cross into the six yard box being headed out by Dany Rosero for a corner kick.

The fourth official indicated there would be a minimum of four minutes of stoppage time as Chivas whipped in their set piece. The ensuing header was struck well and went wide right of the goal, just past the outstretched hands of John Pulskamp.

Fortunately, KCSJ contributor and overall mensch, Jimmy Mack, started his timer next to me so I could watch the stoppage time run. With about two minutes left, Chivas began to press for the equalizer as hard as they could. Johnny, on tired legs, made a late, hard foul in the midfield but was lucky to escape a card. Tim Leibold crumpled into a heap in the six yard box after being kicked in the face by Andreu Fontas and drew the boos and ire of the Chivas fans. The lengthy injury delay took the teams well past the four minute mark and continued to draw boos and chirps from the visiting “home” fans. With stoppage time well over the initial four minutes, the big question was: how much time the center official would tack on? Logan Ndenbe was initially set to sub into the game for the German leftback, but he reentered the match to see it out.

Dany Rosero won a header in the box and was fouled in the process, drawing heavy boos from the pro-Goat crowd.  As John Pulksamp hoofed the dead ball kick forward, the referee blew the whistle to end the match and the home “visiting” team, Sporting Kansas City, advanced to the knockout rounds of the Leagues Cup. In a tough year, the visible relief of the Kansas Citians was noticeable as they earned a gritty, hard fought win over one of Liga MX’s historical giants.

Sporting KC finished the match with 63% possession. They outshot Chivas 14(3) to 7(1). Sporting had an unreal 663 passes to Chivas’ 387. Sporting completed just under 90% of their passes while Chivas was held to just under 85%. SKC won the battles for duels and tackles and was less penalized with only 9 fouls to Chivas’ 16 fouls and 3 yellow cards. Due to a weather delay, SKC will have to wait until after midnight to find out who their next opponent is from the Central 4 group.


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