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The MLS Cup Playoffs channel their inner LA Rams and opt not go to back to st. louis.

Sporting Kansas City complete the sweep and send St. Louis packing in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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Sporting KC, St. Louis City SC, Logan Ndenbe
Credit: Thad Bell

Sporting Kansas City and st. louis met on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in game two of their best-of-three series for round one of the MLS Cup Playoffs (that’s a mouthful). After a shocking and decisive win for Sporting Kansas City a week ago on the road, Peter Vermes opted for one change, rotating captain Johnny Russell in for Khiry Shelton. Willy Agada, back from illness, began the game on the bench alongside Erik Thommy.

Bradley Carnell made a number of changes to his squad, rotating Sam Adeniran into the starting forward line, and making three changes across the back line, with Akil Watts, Kyle Hiebert, and Josh Yaro slotting into the starting lineup next to Tim Parker. Notably, Nicholas Gioacchini and Aziel Jackson were on the bench for the visitors.

FIRST HALF

Sporting, clad in their Sporting Blue Hoops 3.0 kits lined up in their traditional 4-3-3 against st. louis in their Purina Pink™ primary kits who started the match in a 4-4-2 diamond.

The match started with some loose possession for each team before Andreu Fontas took down Joao Klauss in the second minute along the right side of the pitch, putting st. louis in a dangerous spot early. The ensuing set piece was cleared to Gadi Kinda who attempted to drive forward into the midfield but got tangled up with a pink player and was whistled for the foul. st. louis’ ensuing free kick, taken by Löwen was launched towards the moon and Sporting earned a goal kick.

st. louis earned the first corner kick of the match in the sixth minute when a long ball over the top found Sam Adeniran, whose attempted cross was blocked out by Jake Davis. The corner was cleared by Sporting KC and forced the visitors to reset all the way back to their keeper, Roman Burki.

The visitors earned a second corner kick in the ninth minute. Löwen’s outswinger from the right corner sailed over the box and failed to find anyone. Shortly after, Joao Klauss was flagged for offside. He presumably missed the whistle and blasted a ball off Johnny Russell causing a brief stoppage in play.

Through the first quarter hour, neither team seemed to want the ball, with Sporting KC trying to replicate the tactics that secured their away victory and st. louis trying to impose their style by just hoofing it back to Kansas City whenever they were in possession. After a nasty foul in the 17th minute, Sporting KC found a small spell of possession and Gadi Kinda’s speculative shot from outside the box was deflected out for a corner. Johnny Russell’s ensuing corner was an inswinger to the far post that was headed back across the box before being claimed by Burki.

In the 20th minute, Logan Ndenbe earned a harsh warning from the referee, Ismail Elfath, after chopping down Jared Stroud while the midfielder tried to clear the ball up field. Immediately preceding the foul, Sporting Kansas City had a PK shout when Gadi Kinda was shoved in the back by Tim Parker, but the referee failed to make a call.

The first booking of the game came in the 23rd minute when Eduard Löwen for coming through the back of Kinda who was then forearm checked in the face by Jared Stroud. Despite the yellow card, the teams were clearly in the mood for a physical battle and Elfath seemed disinterested in policing the aggressive fouls.

Sporting had a beautiful attacking sequence that ultimately led to a blocked shot in the 28th minute. A ball over the top found Daniel Salloi, who took an excellent touch to steer the ball into space. He found Johnny Russell streaking into the box who then turned it to Alan Pulido. The striker couldn’t find space for a shot but found Kinda as a late arriving runner into the box, but his shot was blocked and st. louis was able to clear their lines.

Sporting had another chance on goal when Johnny Russell was found over the top. His touch let him down and the winger was only able to weakly steer the ball towards the middle of the box where it was easily collected by Burki. In the 29th minute, Daniel Salloi was found with a beautiful diagonal ball to switch the field of play. He left his defender in the dust, running around him shades of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid before driving into the box and firing a shot right at Burki from a tough angle.

In the 32nd minute, Tim Parker earned a yellow for a hard foul on Remi Walter from about 10 yards outside the box along the right side. Johnny Russell’s free kick swung to the back post but was headed out for a corner kick. Daniel Salloi’s corner was cleared but Sporting found possession again. The ball was swung back into the box and headed out for another corner. Sporting chose to take it quickly with Salloi speedily passing it short to Kinda. Kinda hit a step-over and darted into the box where his cross was unable to find anyone in blue.

Sporting had another PK shout in the 40th minute when Johnny Russell cut in from the right. His touch let him down and when he attempted to cut, Njabulo Blom laid Russell out. Rather than earning the penalty kick, the referee whistled Russell for the foul and st. louis earned a free kick.

The visitors earned a corner in the 42nd minute when a shot from inside the box, one of their few attacking plays of the half, was deflected out for a corner. The resulting corner was cleared by Sporting Kansas City, but a sloppy touch in the attacking third of the midfield led to a loose ball. Alan Pulido attempted to slide and win the ball but was late to the ball and cut down Indiana Vassilev, earning a yellow card in the process. st. louis couldn’t do anything with their free kick and Sporting then won a foul when Alan Pulido was hacked by Eduard Löwen.

A sloppy turnover from st. louis led to Sporting Kansas City’s fourth corner kick of the game, but Salloi’s inswinger was collected by Burki. As the fourth official held up the board indicating one minute of stoppage time, the Seth Sinovic Playoff Hero™, Logan Ndenbe, chose to use pen to write his legacy, smoking a ball past Roman Burki and into the far corner of the net, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead entering halftime.

HALF TIME

At the break, Sporting Kansas City owned the possession battle 61%-39%. The hosts also outshot Purina FC 7-3 (3-0). Sporting dominated the passing statistics too, with 208 passes to 132 and 80% accuracy to st. louis’ 61%. Sporting KC led duels won 40-27 and tackles 6-3. The pink-clad visitors did hold the advantage in fouls, committing 11 to Sporting KC’s eight and earning two yellow cards to Sporting’s one.

 

SECOND HALF

st. louis made one substitution at the break, removing Sam Adeniran and replacing him with midfielder Celio Pompeu. In the 51st minute, Gadi Kinda and Josh Yaro came together on a 50/50 ball in the midfield, with Yaro winning it and coming down on Kinda’s leg. The Israeli midfielder was down for a bit before being cleared to return to the pitch.

In the 58th minute, Sporting found their first bit of attacking play for the second half. After Johnny Russell fought to retain possession, Sporting worked the ball in and around the st. louis box before finding Gadi Kinda along the left. He attempted a cross, or shot, or some combination of both, that was claimed by Burki. The visitors marched down field and fired a cross into the middle of the box that found the head of striker, Klauss. His headed effort was hard and low but Tim Melia was able to get down and save the ball off the line, keeping the score 1-0 for the hosts.

st. louis made their second substitution in the 65th minute, replacing Jared Stroud with Nicholas Gioacchini. The visitors nearly leveled the game after the substitution when Celio Pompeu beat Jake Davis and fired a hard low cross across the face of goal. Nobody was home and the ball slid out for a goal kick. st. louis earned their first corner kick of the second half in the 68th minute when Dany Rosero sacrificed face and teeth to deflect a shot out of bounds. st. louis’ corner was what the French call “L’terrible” as it started out of bounds and never came back into play.

Logan Ndenbe earned a yellow card in the 69th minute for a foul on Vassilev. The subsequent free kick was launched over the box and harmlessly out of bounds for a Sporting KC goal kick. The pink team won another corner kick after Klauss was found on a breakaway in transition. He slid the ball across the box to Pompeu whose shot was blocked out.

The corner was cleared by Sporting KC and led to a 2 v. 1 breakaway for the hosts. Johnny Russell found the ball in the defensive midfield and took off down the right side of the pitch. His inch perfect through ball found Gadi Kinda who nutmegged Akil Watts and found the Hungarian Assassin, Daniel Salloi, who slotted it past Roman Burki to make it 2-0 in the 74th minute.

In the 75th minute, Carnell made a third substitution, replacing Akil Watts with Tomas Ostrak in an attempt to bring in more offense. The visitors had earned a free kick deep in Sporting KC territory and made it dangerous, but the Sporting Kansas City defense eventually knocked the ball off of a st. louis visitor and out for a goal kick.

In the 81st minute, Dany Rosero earned a yellow card when he dove in late with both feet on a challenge on Pompeu. No defending this one. It was a very bad challenge and pretty similar to some of the stuff st. louis likes to do. Rosero was injured on the play and was carried off on a stretcher. He was replaced in the 85th minute by Robert Castellanos. Vermes also opted to substitute Alan Pulido for Erik Thommy in the same window.

st. louis pulled one back in the 86th minute with a prayer from outside by box by Pompeu. His worldie from 30 yards out beat Tim Melia to the far, top corner and drew the visitors to within a goal with four minutes of regular time and plenty of stoppage time to find an equalizer. 2-1 Sporting.

The visitors continued to throw body after body forward, looking for a chance to extend their season. Sporting Kansas City earned a late corner kick in the 90th minute when Russell and Kinda combined in the box for a bit of dangerous play. Russell stood over the ball and took a low, hard corner that was cleared by st. louis. The fourth official indicated twelve minutes of added time.

st. louis made their final substitution in the 2nd minute of stoppage time, replacing Indiana Vassilev with Aziel Jackson. Sporting Kansas City countered with their third substitution, replacing Gadi Kinda with Roger Espinoza. Sporting conceded another corner kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time. st. louis’ outswinger found the head of Andreu Fontas who cleared it to the middle of the pitch and briefly alleviated the pressure.

Kyle Hiebert earned himself a yellow in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Peter Vermes took this delay in play to make his final substitution, replacing Johnny Russell with Khiry Shelton. As stoppage time ticked on, Josh Yaro and Daniel Salloi came together along the sideline of the pitch. VAR flagged Elfath for a potential red card, but he either wasn’t called to the monitor or chose to ignore it. As the game entered the 14th minute of stoppage time, the Cauldron began to chant for the final whistle.

Roger Espinoza, always a wily veteran, earned a yellow card in the 16th minute of stoppage time. The ensuing free kick was headed gently into Tim Melia’s hands and the Sporting KC keeper launched the ball long, looking for Elfath to call game.

Finally, the whistle blew, and Kansas City swept their pink-clad rivals out of the playoffs. The top seed in the Western Conference was felled by the hottest team in the conference since May and a legion of fans in blue let out a roar as fireworks launched around the stadium and flags waved throughout the stadium.

st. louis finished the match with the advantage in possession 51% to 49%. They led in shots with 15 to Sporting Kansas City’s eight, though Sporting put four on frame while st. louis only had two on target. The visitors ended up with five more passes than Kansas City 367-362 but Sporting was more accurate 72% to 68%. st. louis led on corner kicks 7-5 but Sporting Kansas City won more duels 55-52 and tackles 12-4. The match ended level on fouls with 14 apiece and Sporting KC earned four yellow cards to st. louis’ three.

Kansas City now await the winner of Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo. There will be three weeks until the next game with the first round of the playoffs extending through next week and a FIFA international break before the Conference Semifinals. Sporting KC will be on the road the rest of the way in the playoffs.

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