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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sporting KC opens four-point lead atop Western Conference with 2-1 win at Minnesota United FC

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids, and graduated from Valley Heights High School in May of 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications.After stops at KFRM and KCLY radio in Clay Center, he joined KNDY in 2002 as a board operator and play by play announcer. Derek is now responsible for the digital content of Dierking Communications, Inc. six radio stations.In 2005 Derek joined the staff of KCFX radio in Kansas City as a production coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, which airs on over 94 radio stations across 12 Midwest states and growing. In 2018 he became the Studio Coordinator at the Cumulus Kansas City broadcast center for Kansas City Chiefs Football.

– Sporting Kansas City (5-1-0, 15 points) moved four points clear atop the Western Conference standings with a 2-1 road victory over second-place Minnesota United FC (3-1-2, 11 points) on Friday at Allianz Field.

Gadi Kinda vaulted the visitors ahead early before the clubs traded own goals on either side of halftime, giving Sporting their first-ever away win against the Loons and avenging a loss to Minnesota by the same scoreline at the MLS is Back Tournament last month in Walt Disney World. The result also ended Minnesota’s unbeaten start to the regular season as Sporting stayed within a point of Columbus Crew SC in the Supporters’ Shield race.

Riding a three-game regular season winning streak, Sporting will now prepare for the club’s first home fixture since March 7 when the Houston Dynamo (0-2-4, 4 points) visit Children’s Mercy Park on Tuesday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports GO, serving as a rematch of Sporting’s home-opening 4-0 triumph over five months ago.

A new-look Sporting lineup was headlined by the MLS debut of English Premier League veteran and New Zealand international Winston Reid, who partnered Graham Smith in central defense. Twenty-year-old Jaylin Lindsey made his first appearance of the season at left back, fellow Sporting KC Academy product Gianluca Busio was deployed as a holding midfielder behind Kinda and Roger Espinoza, and Alan Pulido spearheaded a three-pronged attack alongside wingers Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton. Veteran goalkeeper Tim Melia and right back Graham Zusi rounded out the starting XI for Sporting’s first match in a home market since March 7.

Melia entered the night with a regular season shutout streak that dated back to Feb. 29 and did brilliantly to prevent the Loons from drawing first blood inside three minutes. Minnesota winger Ethan Finlay was afforded an excellent opportunity when Luis Amarilla’s shot deflected fortuitously into his path on the right side of the box, but Melia produced a sprawling save to keep the game scoreless.

Undeterred by the early scare, Sporting broke through in the 12th minute. Pulido dropped deep to receive the ball and spread it wide to Lindsey, who picked out Kinda with a pocket of space on the left flank. His teasing cross into the six-yard area was intended for the on-running Espinoza but skipped through untouched and beat Minnesota’s debutant goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, who was expecting a redirect from the Sporting midfielder. The play gave Kinda his third goal of the regular season, tied with Pulido and Shelton for the team lead.

Pulido almost doubled his side’s advantage in the 16th minute, settling a clever pass from Kinda and firing low from the top of the box, but Ranjitsingh made an impressive reflex save. Ten minutes later, Melia conjured a spectacular stop of his own by leaping to touch Hassani Dotson’s sweetly struck volley over the crossbar.

Sporting were unfortunate to concede an equalizer with 32 minutes on the clock. A flowing Minnesota attack resulted in a Finlay strike that caromed off Lindsey and slipped inside the near post to level the score at 1-1, ending Melia’s regular season shutout streak at 347 minutes. The last chance of the first half then fell to Kinda who raced onto Russell’s clever through ball, but his shot was smothered between the legs of Ranjitsingh.

Another stunning stop from Melia denied Dotson a goal two minutes into the second stanza. The midfielder’s flick-on header was destined for the far left corner, but Melia pushed the ball aside at full extension to record his third and final save of the evening.

Kinda was again involved in Sporting’s 55th-minute game-winner, accelerating into the attacking half and laying the ball to Russell on the left wing. The Scottish international beat his defender along the endline and pulled back a driven cross that thumped off Minnesota defender Michael Boxall and nestled into the back of the net. This decisive moment would mark the first MLS match in Sporting’s 25-year history to feature multiple own goals.

Midway through the second period, Kinda continued to pull the strings with a lobbed diagonal ball to Zusi, who unfurled a venomous 22-yard blast that Ranjitsingh managed to corral.

Vermes made a pair of notable substitutions in the late stages, awarding 19-year-old Cameron Duke his MLS regular season debut and inserting 22-year-old Felipe Hernandez. The shuffle meant that Sporting’s midfield trio featured three Sporting KC Academy products in Busio, Duke and Hernandez.

Seeking a late leveler, Minnesota dominated possession and territory in the dying embers but were unable to carve out a clear-cut chance. A fleeting opportunity came and went in the 80th minute when Robin Lod’s low delivery fizzed dangerously across the face of goal, narrowly past the reach of a lurking Raheem Edwards.

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