The coaches complimented his fluidity within the offense as his teammates praised his ability to make movements and open things up for them. But for all of the recognition Sporting Kansas City striker Khiry Shelton has received, the primary responsibility is to score goals.
On Sunday, Shelton finally broke through.
The starting striker in Sporting Kansas City’s system tallied his first goal of 2018, the opening score in a 1-1 draw at Minnesota United.
The goal arrived on Shelton’s 24th shot of the season, his header finishing off a corner kick for his initial goal in a Sporting KC uniform. The reaction coupled his relief and the genuine contentment from a group of teammates who have been vocal in their support of his play.
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“It’s the first one, and that’s the hardest one to get,” Shelton told reporters in Minnesota after the match. “I got that out of the way, and now I’m sure it will open up.”
The one point moved Sporting KC (7-2-3) four points clear of second-place Los Angeles FC in the Western Conference of MLS. It’s the fifth time in six away matches in which Sporting KC has departed a city with points.
The achievement Sunday was grounded by the realization it should have left Minnesota with a victory. Sporting KC placed 10 shots on goal to Minnesota’s four. Sporting took all nine corner kicks in the match. It delivered 23 crosses to just four from the home side. The vast majority of the second half was played in Minnesota’s defensive third.
But it didn’t alter the score line. Minnesota keeper Bobby Shuttleworth made eight saves to preserve the draw. He utilized the aid of his goalpost in the 75th minute when Graham Zusi’s header connected with the woodwork.
“We played very well. I thought we were dominant in the second half. We were all over them,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “They didn’t really get out and cause too many problems. We were in and around the goal quite a bit — moved the ball, created some really good chances. You have to give the goalkeeper credit; he made some good saves.”
Shelton opened the scoring in the eighth minute before Minnesota midfielder Darwin Quintero answered 12 minutes later. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia made an atypical gaffe. He was unable to corral an initial header that hit both his hands, and Quintero directed the rebound past him.
In its buildup for the goal, Minnesota worked the right flank — and the left side of Sporting KC’s defense. It was a common theme in the initial half, and only 36 minutes into the match, Vermes removed left back Jimmy Medranda in favor of Seth Sinovic. Medranda had been battling an injury during practice over the last few days.
Even so, Sporting KC has conceded just twice in five games after allowing nine goals over the first four matches.
“Tim’s made a lot of big saves for us. I’m sure he’s upset a little bit at himself, but listen, he’s pulled us out of a lot of different games,” Vermes said. “We gotta help him as well, and we could’ve been in a much better place to not even let the player get the header off, let alone the rebound.”