The aftermath of most significant trade in franchise history left Sporting Kansas City without its leading scorer from the past three years. The absence of Dom Dwyer, who had been removed from pregame highlight clips on Saturday, put the focus squarely on Sporting Kansas City’s offensive replacements.
So far, so good.
Four days after trading Dwyer, Sporting KC’s offense outmanned Chicago with relative ease, and Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia made a game-saving stop for a 3-2 victory at Children’s Mercy Park.
“Offensively, that was some of the best stuff we’ve had all season,” Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said. “There have been many games we’ve had trouble breaking down the other team. Tonight wasn’t one of them.”
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Daniel Salloi, Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing tallied the three goals for Sporting KC, which at least for one night showed little signs of missing Dwyer, the second leading scorer in franchise history.
Melia preserved the victory in the 85th minute with a quick-reaction, sprawling save on MLS leading scorer Nemanja Nikolic. Chicago had trimmed the margin to 3-2 just seven minutes earlier on David Accam’s goal.
But the offense had done its job — even without Dwyer, who had made his debut with Orlando City SC only hours earlier. Sporting KC, 9-4-9, displayed fluid, free-moving spells with Diego Rubio connecting the top of the formation. He was flanked on the wings by Blessing and Salloi.
“We lost Dom, but we don’t depend on one player,” Blessing said. “No, we’re going to go forward.”
To a man, Sporting KC players in the locker room spoke of the movement and connectivity in the final third of the field on Saturday. When doing so, the references to Dwyer weren’t exactly subtle, even if he wasn’t often specifically mentioned by name.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes acknowledged his front line of Rubio, Salloi and Blessing were motivated to prove their worth. In referencing Rubio specifically, the direct replacement for Dwyer, Vermes added, “Being able to play through a focal point up front was a big piece of tonight’s success.”
It was evident before halftime against Chicago, which entered the match with the league’s best goal differential.
Sporting KC scored twice in the first half for just the second time this season. There was a commonality between the two — bicycle kicks. On Saturday, Feilhaber punctuated the first half with a bike from just 1 yard out. Prior to that, Sporting KC’s lone two-goal opening half came against the LA Galaxy, when Ike Opara scored on a bicycle kick.
Salloi opened the scoring in the 23rd minute on Saturday, outracing the Chicago defense, pausing to assess his options and unleashing a shot that used a deflection to splash the net.
Blessing was credited with Sporting’s third goal. It came in the 51st minute after Rubio rifled a shot that caromed off Blessing’s leg.
“I don’t think everybody heard what people were talking about, but of course (we were motivated),” Rubio said, later adding, “Today, we had many chances to score some goals because of the movement we made in the front.”
On the flip side, Chicago, 11-5-5, was the first opponent to score twice in a game Kansas City this season. But it was aided by an own goal late in the first half, when Besler deflected a ball into his own net to tie the match at 1-1.
Feilhaber regained Sporting KC the lead with the bicycle kick just before halftime. It was just the second such goal of his life, he said, and the other came during a preseason match.
The buildup to the goal — a pass from Graham Zusi and deflection from Blessing — drew similar praise from Sporting KC players and coaches. As it did all night.
“There are just a variety of movements that they make, and they do it in sync,” Opara said of the offense. “Today was one of those days that it looked really good. We could’ve had four, five, maybe six.”
Sporting Kansas City 3
CHICAGO: Matt Lampson, Matt Polster, Johan Kappelhof, Joao Meira, Patrick Doody, Juninho (Daniel Johnson, 77th), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Jonathan Campbell, 91st), Dax McCarty, Luis Solignac (David Accam, 55th), Nemanja Nikolic, Michael de Leeuw.
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Benny Feilhaber (Erik Palmer-Brown, 87th), Latif Blessing (Jimmy Medranda, 83rd), Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi (Cristian Lobato, 73rd).
Chicago: 2, Besler 1 (own goal), 28th minute. 5, Accam, 12 (Doody, McCarty), 78th minute.
Kansas City: 1, Salloi 2, 23rd minute. 3, Feilhaber 4, 46th minute. 4, Blessing 3 (Rubio, Salloi), 51st minute.
Shots on goal
Chicago: Juninho (unsporting behavior), 76th; Meira (unsporting behavior), 90th.
Kansas City: None.
Referee: Alan Kelly.
Assistant referee: Eric Weisbrod.
Assistant referee: Michael Kampmeinert.
Fourth official: Alejandro Mariscal.