An improved defensive focus landed Soony Saad in the Sporting Kansas City starting lineup for the second straight match Wednesday.
His offense may help keep him there.
Saad broke a scoreless tie against Minnesota United FC in the 76h minute Wednesday, lifting Sporting KC to a 2-0 victory in the fourth-round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Sporting Park. Alex Martinez added his first professional goal in the 87th minute against a Minnesota team that played the second half down a man after Cristiano Dias was ejected.
“I had a couple shots (earlier) that I thought were in for sure, so it was nice to have that one finally slide in,” said Saad, who bent a shot off the crossbar seven minutes into the match. “It took a lot of pressure off.”
It could be the start of something bigger for Saad, who scored for the second straight match after falling out of favor and battling an injury early in the season.
This one helped Sporting KC advance to the fifth round of the Open Cup competition, in which it will face Portland at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Sporting Park.
Saad may have earned himself a third consecutive start.
“He always does that,” coach Peter Vermes said of Saad’s offensive contribution. “It’s the other side that he has to make sure he’s conscientious about. When he has the awareness to play both sides of the ball, he becomes an extremely valuable player to the team.”
Saad put the finishing touches on a dominating sequence from Sporting KC after Minnesota fell down a man only five minutes into the second half. Dias was shown a straight red card for leading with his forearms in an aerial challenge against Dom Dwyer.
“I thought it ruined a good night of soccer,” Minnesota coach Manny Lagos said of the call. “... I would say maybe a yellow (card).”
The foul sent Dwyer to the ground clutching his head, but he stayed in the match. Vermes called the play a “very dangerous challenge.”
Dwyer bounced back and nearly put the home side on top in a series of chances against Minnesota keeper Mitch Hildebrandt. Dwyer re-directed a pass from Saad toward the net in the 64th minute, but Hildebrandt was able to get a piece of the shot and gobble up the rebound. A nearly identical opportunity greeted Seth Sinovic only 60 seconds later, but he was also unable to find the net.
Saad didn’t miss his chance.
After collecting a pass from Lawrence Olum, Saad blasted a shot from 25 yards away that sneaked inside the left post for his second goal in as many matches. Martinez fired home a pass from Sal Zizzo for the 2-0 final.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to put your first goal away and help the team win and advance to the next round,” Martinez said. “I knew eventually it would come. I was happy that it came tonight and finally showed up after being so close a couple times.”
That concluded a lively second half and provided more than enough insurance for Sporting KC keeper Andy Gruenebaum, who made three saves in his first start of the season. Gruenebaum was making his Sporting KC debut after eight years with the Columbus Crew.