Sporting Kansas Metropolis punched their ticket to the Western Convention semi-finals with a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
First-half strikes from Khiry Shelton and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin both facet of a Cristian Dajome penalty gave SKC the benefit, setting the stage for veteran right-back Graham Zusi to seal the deal in type after the break.
A much more full of life match than the Eastern Conference conflict between the Philadelphia Union and New York Purple Bulls that preceded it, each side went at one another from the off at Youngsters’s Mercy Park.
SKC created the higher alternatives and drew first blood on 17 minutes, Shelton bundling the ball into the far nook following some nice work down the suitable from Zusi.
However the Whitecaps all the time regarded harmful, simply an incisive go or driving run away from chopping the Kansas Metropolis protection open. They lastly managed simply that within the thirty ninth minute as Dajome despatched Tim Melia the fallacious approach from the penalty spot after an apparent handball name on Luis Martins.
If Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini was overjoyed on the equalizer, he’ll have been completely livid at his facet falling behind once more on the stroke of half-time. Particularly given the calamitous nature of their defending from a Johnny Russell nook, failing to clear the ball and ultimately seeing Isimat-Mirin poking the ball residence together with his knee from shut vary.
Sartini had clearly supplied some sturdy phrases within the locker room at half time as a result of Vancouver got here out like a home on hearth after the break. Dajome and Ryan Gauld regarded significantly harmful because the Canadian facet began to maneuver by way of the gears in possession.
However the ‘Caps could not convert their stress into significant possibilities and had been punished within the 58th minute as Zusi let rip from 25 yards out, leaving goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau with completely no probability. The aim was an ideal reward for the veteran right-back, who has loved a resurgent 2021 marketing campaign.
Nonetheless, the Whitecaps would not die, persevering with to pile stress on the SKC protection. Middle-back Andy Rose put a free header straight down the throat of Melia from an exquisite Gauld supply. That was simply minutes earlier than Brian White compelled an unbelievable save from Melia, who needed to go all the way in which all the way down to his bottom-right nook to maintain out the American striker’s header.
Although they began to expire of steam, Vancouver by no means gave up the ghost and thought they’d pulled a aim again within the ultimate 5 minutes of regular time, solely to see Lucas Cavallini’s strike dominated out for offside.
For the second yr in a row, Sporting Kansas Metropolis made it by way of Spherical one of many Playoffs and can await the winner of the Seattle Sounders and Actual Salt Lake within the Western Convention semi-finals. For Vancouver, this marks the top of what needs to be thought-about a profitable marketing campaign, with Sartini turning issues round and guiding them again into the Playoffs for the primary time since 2017.
Over the previous couple of seasons, you began to get the sense it was time to retire for Graham Zusi, who has suffered from poor type, lack of health, and slowing legs. However not in 2021.
The 35-year-old has been impressed for Sporting Kansas Metropolis, rating third on the membership for blocks (42) and clearances (55), and second for interceptions (57). Remarkably, he is solely been dribbled previous 9 occasions all yr. All that have has been cashed in for a supreme defensive turnout in 2021.
However Zusi additionally managed 4 assists within the common season and was third solely to Johnny Russell (42) and Daniel Salloi (40) for possibilities created (34). This was the place the veteran impressed a lot on Saturday.
It was his supply that created Shelton’s opening aim, pushing excessive up the pitch to athletically direct a Salloi cross again in entrance of aim and into the trail of his ahead.
Then there was his aim to complete the match. That wonderful, unstoppable strike. Zusi noticed how the Whitecaps had been threatening and determined to drop a nuke on the match, ending it there after which. From there, he continued to play a giant half in SKC closing out the evening.
Sporting Kansas Metropolis will not be all people’s decide to win MLS Cup. However in Zusi, they’ve a resurgent, gifted, and supremely skilled full-back – he is simply one among various battle-hardened gamers on this roster who might take SKC all the way in which. On the very least, Zusi was the star that guided Peter Vermes’ males by way of a difficult Spherical One conflict.