Sporting loses final match of season

Sporting Kansas City (11-16-7, 40 points) saw its seven-match unbeaten run and three-game winning streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas (14-9-11, 53 points) on Sunday afternoon in the 2022 season finale at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Making the 341st regular season appearance of his career, Sporting defender Graham Zusi buried a 51st-minute equalizer after Dallas had taken a first-half lead through Sebastian Lletget, but the hosts clinched third place in the Western Conference and a home playoff game thanks to Paul Arriola’s match-winner in the 65th minute.

The result cemented a 12th-place finish in the West for Sporting, which was already assured of missing the MLS Cup Playoffs for just the second time in the last 12 years.

Boasting a 5-0-2 record since Aug. 21, Sporting fielded a formidable lineup that featured a single change from last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Seattle Sounders FC as goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh—who ended the day with an impressive six saves—stepped between the posts for his second career MLS appearance.

McIntosh and Sporting thought they were breached in the seventh minute when Dallas cashed in on a bounce of the ball. Arriola poked home from close range after fellow U.S. international Jesus Ferreira pinged a probing ball into the penalty area, but VAR intervened and referee Victor Rivas wiped away the goal for offside after taking a second look at the play.

The teams traded early chances on either side of Arriola’s disallowed strike, with red-hot Sporting striker Willy Agada nodding marginally high off Ben Sweat’s cross and Dallas winger Jader Obrian having a header comfortably saved by McIntosh. The playoff-bound hosts had a flurry of set piece opportunities in the first quarter-hour and McIntosh showcased his shot-stopping prowess with an acrobatic save to deny Jose Antonio Martinez at point-blank range following a free kick, though the Dallas center back was flagged offside and the goal would not have counted.

Midway through the first half, Sporting forward Daniel Salloi tried his luck with an audacious 25-yard belter that screamed narrowly wide of the target. Ten minutes later, Sporting’s patient buildup in the attacking third culminated with Remi Walter smashing a 20-yard shot over the crossbar.

The visitors were victims of bad luck in the 33rd minute when Lletget’s shot from just outside the penalty area took a wicked deflection into the back of the net past a helpless McIntosh, giving Dallas a 1-0 lead to protect. It marked only the third time in the last 10 MLS matches that Sporting has faced a deficit.

Four minutes after the restart, Espinoza tested Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes with a low, curling strike from the top of the box that the Dutch gloveman dove to cast aside. The promising look was a harbinger of things to come, however, as Sporting would restore parity shortly thereafter.

With 51 minutes on the clock, Paes leaped high to punch away Sweat’s teasing delivery, but Erik Thommy was first to react inside the box to Zusi, who finished low across the keeper to make the score 1-1. Zusi now has 31 goals in his heralded regular season career, tying Benny Feilhaber and Mo Johnston for ninth on Sporting’s all-time charts.

Buzzing with momentum, Sporting almost surged ahead a few minutes later. A well-orchestrated counterattack involving Agada and Salloi led to an open look from Thommy on the edge of the box, and the German midfielder forced Paes into another diving stop. The Dallas keeper was increasingly busy as Sporting continued to dictate terms, reacting quickly at the near post to get his mitts on Roger Espinoza’s snap header from a pinpoint Thommy cross.

As the game began to open up in the midfield, Sporting paid for a costly giveaway by conceding its second goal in the 65th minute. Dallas midfielder Facundo Quignon pounced on a stray ball in his team’s attacking half and spread the ball down the left channel to substitute Alan Velasco, whose low cross was slotted home on the doorstep by Arriola for his 10th goal of the season.

Sporting captain Johnny Russell went agonizingly close to leveling terms in the 73rd minute, cutting inside from the right wing and curling a brilliantly hit strike inches wide of the far left post. Not long later at the opposite end, McIntosh did well to spring low and save Ferreira’s shot on the breakaway.

Thommy was next to be denied a glorious goal in the 76th minute, performing multiple shot fakes at the top of the box before unleashing a curler that was bound for the right corner, only for Paes to produce an outstanding stop. The hosts would then create danger of their own, with Velasco’s bending effort smacking off the woodwork.

The final moments of the contest delivered breathless end-to-end action, offering players plenty of space to exploit in the center of the park, and McIntosh bagged another great save on the cusp of second-half stoppage time to thwart Ferreira.

Sporting will now enter an important offseason ahead of a banner 2023 campaign, which will begin the final weekend of February with the commencement of Major League Soccer’s 28th season and feature the newly expanded Leagues Cup, a one-of-a-kind tournament involving all clubs from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX that will unfold next summer from July 21 to Aug. 19. Manager Peter Vermes’ men will also compete in the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and set their sights on a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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Sporting KC season finale Sunday at Dallas

Sporting Kansas City will close out the club’s 2022 campaign this Sunday on the road against FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

All seven Western Conference clashes will kick off at 4:18 p.m. on the final day of the regular season – preceded by seven Eastern Conference match-ups starting at 1:55 p.m. – and will hold a live watchalong show to capture all of the Decision Day drama on the league’s YouTube and Twitch channels.

Sporting’s showdown with FC Dallas will air live on 38 The Spot with three hours of coverage beginning at 4 p.m. The telecast will mark the end of an era for local television broadcasts in MLS as the league has partnered with Apple to stream matches through the Apple TV app from 2023 through 2032.

Sunday’s match will also stream live on and in the Sporting KC app for viewers in Kansas and Missouri (excluding the St. Louis area per MLS policy), as well as ESPN+ for out-of-market subscribers, in addition to radio coverage on ESPN KC 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM. Sporting KC Pub Partners across the Midwest will show the match, including an enhanced watch party at Blind Box Barbecue (1601 Village West Parkway) in Kansas City, Kansas.

While Sporting KC has been eliminated from postseason contention, FC Dallas have secured a berth in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs under first-year head coach Nico Estevez. A draw or win on Sunday would clinch a home playoff match and the club’s first top-three finish in the West since winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2016, whereas a loss could see FC Dallas slip to fifth in the standings. Based on Decision Day results, Sporting can finish as high as 17th or as low as 24th in the overall table which will determine the club’s position in a variety of MLS roster mechanisms.

Sporting enters Sunday’s season finale on a strong run of form with wins in each of the team’s past three matches and riding a seven-game unbeaten run (5-0-2) which stands as the longest active streak in MLS. A road result at FC Dallas would see Sporting conclude the campaign with the best finish to a regular season in team history.

Defensively, Sporting KC has four shutouts in the last six matches including a 1-0 victory over Seattle last Sunday. Willy Agada scored the game-winning goal and now has eight goals in his last eight starts, moving the 23-year-old into a tie with club captain Johnny Russell for the team’s Golden Boot.

Fellow forward Daniel Salloi – who assisted Agada’s goal last week and leads the team with 12 goal contributions — sits one behind with seven regular season goals to go along with five assists. Salloi and Russell each have six regular season goals in their careers against FC Dallas, which is tied with Preki for most of any KC player in the all-time series.

In addition to the Golden Boot, Agada is also in contention to break a club record that has stood for more than 20 years since Miklos Molnar scored 12 times in 17 regular season appearances in 2000 to set the bar for the best goals per game ratio in a single season by a KC player. Currently, Agada’s eight goals in 12 regular season matches has him atop the chart with 0.73 goals per game – narrowly ahead of Molnar’s mark of 0.71 goals per game.

One other Sporting KC player could also write his name into the record books on Sunday. Since Major League Soccer expanded the regular season to 34 matches in 2011, only two SKC field players have started in all 34 matches in a single season: Ilie Sanchez and Graham Zusi in 2018. Midfielder Remi Walter is poised to accomplish the feat as the Frenchman ranks second in MLS in distance covered (220.4 miles) and third among field players in recoveries (246).

After going winless in the club’s first seven regular season finales away from home between 1996 and 2006, Sporting Kansas City has won five of the team’s last seven regular season finales on the road dating back to 2007 when KC defeated FC Dallas. Sporting prevailed in each of its two visits to Toyota Stadium in 2021 — against an FC Dallas side that hasn’t lost more than one regular season game to any other opponent at home over the last five seasons — and in the most recent meeting, SKC eliminated FC Dallas from this year’s U.S. Open Cup with a 4-2 come-from-behind victory in extra time in May.

While Sporting is unbeaten in seven straight matches, FC Dallas enters with a six-game home unbeaten run and the best defense in the Western Conference with only 36 goals conceded on the year. Maarten Paes has the second best goals against average among MLS starting goalkeepers and has helped the club to its greatest year-over-year improvement, going from 33 points in 2021 (7-15-12) to 50 points to date in 2022 (13-9-11).

FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira has tied the club record with 18 goals this season and is the top scoring American in Major League Soccer. Fellow Designated Player Alan Velasco has contributed six goals and six assists in his debut season — including goals in back-to-back matches before missing the team’s last three games due to injury — and the FC Dallas midfield features U.S. Men’s National Team member Paul Arriola and summer signing Sebastian Lletget.

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Sporting wins final 2022 home game, beats Sounders 1-0

Forwards Johnny Russell and Willy Agada were all smiles as Agada got up after scoring the game-winning goal in Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 victory over Seattle, capping a streak of six consecutive home wins. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)

by Brian Turrel

Sporting Kansas City closed its home schedule on a high note, winning 1-0 over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday afternoon at Children’s Mercy Park and booting the Sounders from playoff contention, the end of an impressive 13-year streak.

Despite Kansas City’s lowly position in the standings, the home team had the better chances all afternoon, forcing Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei to make 10 saves against only one for Sporting’s John Pulskamp.

Forward Willy Agada was responsible for most of the danger up front, taking crosses from Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi on the wings. In a notable sequence in the 29th minute, Agada headed a cross from Russell on goal and then fired back the rebound. Frei made a diving stab to parry the header and then scrambled into position for a body block on the rebound shot.

Agada broke through in the 42nd minute, picking up a cross from Salloi, taking one touch to settle the ball, and then turning on it to blast it inside the far post.

Sporting kept up the pressure through the late stages of the game, fending off Seattle’s attempts to find an equalizer, and bringing on Felipe Hernandez and Kayden Pierre for fresh legs. Kortne Ford entered in the 77th minute for defensive reinforcement to protect the lead.

Kansas City manager Peter Vermes will have some difficult decisions to make in the off season. Fan favorites Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza are out of contract and at the tail end of their careers.

After the match, Vermes talked about the team’s great late-season form. “It’s always good to leave a last impression to start the next year,” the veteran coach said. “So the win, the shutout, the way we played, it’s all very important to how we finish here but more importantly, to how we go into next year.”

Also, designated players Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda will return from missing a season due to injury and expect to find playing time in an offensive corps that found success in their absence.

After the match, Vermes talked about the team’s great late-season form.

“It’s always good to leave a last impression to start the next year,” the veteran coach said. “So the win, the shutout, the way we played, it’s all very important to how we finish here but more importantly, to how we go into next year.”

Sporting Kansas City wraps up the 2022 season next Sunday on the road against FC Dallas.

Forward Johnny Russell headed the ball in front of the Seattle goal. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)
Forward Willy Agada turned on a cross from Daniel Salloi and hit it inside the far post for a score. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)
Seattle defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade slid in to disrupt a run from defender Ben Sweat. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)
Forward Willy Agada headed a shot on goal in the first half. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)
Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei came off the line to intercept a run from forward Daniel Salloi. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)
Forward Daniel Salloi took a shot on goal in the second half. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)
After the game, forward Daniel Salloi signed a girl’s cast, then a boy’s shoe, then a shirt, a poster, a hat, an arm and several other items. (Photo copyright 2022 by Brian Turrel)