Sporting KC

Best in MLS? Sporting KC dismisses Atlanta, takes over Supporters’ Shield lead

Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe (left) worked against Sporting Kansas City forward Khiry Shelton, with goalkeeper Brad Guzan (who later received a red card) watching during the first half Wednesday's MLS match in Atlanta.
Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe (left) worked against Sporting Kansas City forward Khiry Shelton, with goalkeeper Brad Guzan (who later received a red card) watching during the first half Wednesday's MLS match in Atlanta.

The lone goal scorer stood in front of his locker four days ago and expressed a bit of regret. After providing the breakthrough in a win on his home field, Sporting Kansas City winger Daniel Salloi explained how he could have — even should have — scored twice more, if only he had curled the ball better.

On Wednesday, the curl was perfected.

The timing was, too.

For the second straight outing, Salloi had the game-winner, this one lifting Sporting KC to a 2-0 victory against Atlanta, the top team in the Eastern Conference.

As of late Wednesday, the MLS standings show a new leader in the Supporters’ Shield race: Sporting Kansas City.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but road points in MLS are enormous,” Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia said in a phone interview after the match. “I think we made them uncomfortable, and not many teams come here and make them uncomfortable.”

In outlasting an undermanned Atlanta team, Sporting KC won its third road match of the season — after winning just two away matches in 2017 — and moved to 23 points on the year, more than any other team in the league. It is the first club to shut out second-year Atlanta on its home field, a cause that required eight saves from Melia and an Atlanta goal waved off by video review.

Sporting KC (7-2-2) played with a man advantage for the final hour after Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan was ejected for a late, dangerous challenge on striker Khiry Shelton, a play that also forced backup keeper Paul Christensen into the match for his MLS debut.

Sporting KC didn’t test Christensen initially, but Salloi finally struck in the 67th minute, sending a powerful, curling shot into the right side of the net from 20 yards out.

“I thought from an offensive perspective, (Salloi) and Khiry had the best movement up front,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “They worked hard, both those guys. They were very dangerous in a lot of situations.”

Even up a man, Salloi’s bending shot was only narrowly enough. Melia made three match-preserving saves, including two on a pair of dangerous free kicks in the 83rd and 86th minutes, and captain defender Matt Besler used his body to prevent a rebound chance from finding its way across the goal line.

Atlanta (7-2-1) had scored at least twice in every regular season home match in its two-year history.

“I would say Tim was unbelievable,” Vermes said. “He was the man of the match. There was a good chance they tie that game with any one of those chances.”

Sporting KC winger Gerso Fernandes slipped past on a counter to offer the dagger in the 87th minute. It was his first goal of the season after leading the club in the category in 2017. Salloi has three.

The leader in MLS is stuck on seven. Thanks to instant replay. Atlanta forward Josef Martinez appeared to open the scoring in the sixth minute before a review showed him offside.

Atlanta tested Melia three times in the first 15 minutes. He didn’t break.

“It’s almost like you’re chasing extra guys because their defenders are so high — they like to just go and start the game off fast,” Melia said. “I thought we shifted really well and then we started to do a good job of keeping the ball, which wasn’t easy on the road against this team.”

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