Sporting Kansas City advanced to the MLS is Back Tournament Quarterfinals on Sunday night with a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC following a scoreless draw at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World.
A one-sided contest saw Sporting outshoot Vancouver 36-8 through 90 minutes, setting a club record for most shot attempts in an MLS match, but Whitecaps goalkeeper Thomas Hasal made eight saves as the Canadian side forced penalty kicks to decide the Round of 16 encounter. The shootout, however, belonged to Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia, who saved two penalties as Sporting prevailed 3-1 with successful spot kicks from Alan Pulido, Ilie Sanchez and Gianluca Busio.
Sunday’s result sets up a marquee quarterfinal showdown between Sporting and the Philadelphia Union at 7 p.m. CT Thursday on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. The fixture will be the first of four MLS is Back Tournament quarterfinal matchups as competing clubs vie for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League berth awarded to the tournament winner.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men dominated from wire to wire, notably finishing the first 45 minutes with 22 shots-the second-most in the opening half of an MLS match in league history. The first of several opportunities fell in the 10th minute to Johnny Russell, who chested down Graham Zusi’s superb diagonal ball and beat defender Jake Nerwinski, only for Ranko Veselinovic to block the winger’s right-footed effort.
Weathering wave after wave of Sporting pressure, Vancouver survived three close calls near the 20-minute mark. An excellent buildup involving Pulido and Russell afforded Zusi space to cross from the right wing to the far post, where Gadi Kinda’s leaping header was pushed aside by the 21-year-old Hasal. Not long later, Hasal dove at full extension to save Roger Espinoza’s long-range screamer before Russell fired marginally high along the left side of the box.
A rare Vancouver foray into the attacking third required Melia to make two fingertip saves in the space of a minute, with Cristian Dajome and Inbeom Hwang both trying their luck from distance. At the opposite end of the pitch, Sporting nearly broke through on the stroke of intermission as Graham Smith’s header narrowly missed the mark and Hasal dropped low to palm away Russell’s chested shot off an Espinoza cross. On the final play of the half, Hasal thwarted Russell’s audacious free kick attempt before Espinoza’s rebound effort was blocked by Derek Cornelius.
Russell continued to push the envelope after the restart, his searching ball from the left channel finding Zusi on the right side of the box, but the defender’s strike lacked the direction to beat Hasal. Less than 15 minutes later, Russell advanced into the penalty area and unfurled a shot that fizzed wide of the near post and into the side netting.
Despite holding an upper hand throughout the night, Sporting almost fell behind in the 54th minute when Theo Bair’s shot near the top of the box took a wicked deflection off Smith and trickled inches wide of Melia’s right-hand post.
Pulido entered the night with a goal or an assist in his first five appearances for Sporting and very nearly extended his impressive streak in the 66th minute. A well-worked attack involving several players on the edge of the box culminated with an incisive run from the Mexican, whose left-footed belter was touched onto the post by Hasal.
Gerso Fernandes, Daniel Salloi entered the fray as offensive reinforcements-the latter making his 100th competitive appearance for Sporting-but a resolute Vancouver defense remained difficult to breach. Smith latched onto another corner kick in the 90th minute, Busio providing the service, but the center back’s header grazed over the woodwork. In second-half stoppage time, Melia notched his last of five saves by smothering Ali Adnan’s knuckling free kick from 25 yards.
The decisive penalty shootout began ominously for Vancouver, as Cristian Dajome’s unsuccessful attempt rattled the post. Pulido and Whitecaps midfielder subsequently buried their penalties before Ilie picked out the corner to give Sporting a 2-1 advantage. Melia then thwarted Cornelius, giving Salloi a chance to win the game for Sporting, but his effort was also saved. Yet Melia wouldn’t be outdone, as he snuffed out Yordy Reyna’s strike to set the stage for Busio. The 18-year-old stepped to the spot and coolly nestled his shot into the upper corner to seal the shootout win in a game that finished close to 1:30 a.m. local time in Florida.