By Max Lowson, Sports Radio 810 WHB
In minute 64’ of Wednesday night’s matchup against the Colorado Rapids, Felipe Hernandez scored his first goal of the season, giving Sporting Kansas City a commanding 3-0 lead and putting the game out of reach for Colorado. Sitting at 2nd place in the western conference, Sporting is a confident unit heading into their game against Los Angeles Football Club tomorrow night.
For the first 80 minutes of their game against the Rapids, Kansas City was stout defensively and shut down Colorado’s offensive attack. Sporting’s 4-3-3 lineup was perfectly suited for Colorado’s 5-3-2, as Colorado’s upper third of the field had little space to maneuver. Kansas City essentially clogged the middle of the field outside their penalty area, making it hard for Barrios, Rubio, Acosta, and the rest of the Colorado attack to get clean looks at the goal.
On the offensive side of the ball, Sporting was completely unphased by Colorado’s five defensemen look. At just the 7’ mark, Khiry Shelton got by the entire defense for a breakaway opportunity that was gathered by William Yarbrough. Daniel Salloi scored the first goal of the game at 14’ following outstanding hustle and a perfect delivery pass from Johnny Russell.
Salloi would score his second of the night at 38’ on a brilliantly located shot, sneaking it just inside the left goal post from the left side of the penalty box.
Salloi is coming off of a difficult 2020 season. When asked how he has found ways to improve and produce at a high level in 2021, he responded, “With all due respect, I’d like everybody to stop talking about last year, because yes, it was bad; and yes, I did not have enough confidence and now I do. So please, let’s talk about this year…my confidence has changed.”
As it pertains to this season, the game against Colorado in particular, Salloi felt the Rapids made a mistake by fielding a 5-3-2 formation; “I think they changed their formation to having five back…this was worse for them, because they were confused…there were many chances where they didn’t know who to mark. We found the gaps and were able to exploit them.”
Sporting totaled 8 shots in the first half of play, 3 of which were on goal, while holding Colorado to 2 total shots.
Felipe Hernandez, after scoring his first goal of the year to break the ice in the 2nd half, was asked about how that moment felt for him. He stated that Sporting KC “has the best fans in the world” and that this goal is emblematic of his work ethic to move up from a prospect, to the second team, and now to a starter.
Hernandez was also asked about if he felt his contributions have been overshadowed by some of the headliners for Sporting, such as Salloi and Busio, to which Hernandez stated “I would never say that. I just try to do my part. It’s a team effort. If we win, I don’t care who gets the recognition. I’m just happy to get points and the win here.”
LAFC will present a new challenge for Sporting. Although they sit at 8th in the west with a 3-3-3 record, Sporting will have to play smart and decisive against the Los Angeles attack.
Diego Rossi is a threat any time he has the ball in the upper third. The skilled left-wing forward is a magnificent striker and is a goal scoring threat on any clear look from 20 yards and in.
After being sidelined with a serious knee injury for most of 2020, Carlos Vela is looking to regain his 2019 form, a season in which he scored 34 goals in 31 games. Caleb Jennings will make his second career start at central forward. While Jennings may be the weakest link of the three, Vela and Rossi could do some damage in tomorrow’s contest if Kansas City’s defense is at all careless or lacks focus.
Sporting head coach Peter Vermes will look to utilize Alan Pulido against Los Angeles. He was incredibly pleased by Pulido’s performance against Colorado after subbing into the game for Russell, “Alan really helped us a lot. He’s just so good in-between the lines, it’s unbelievable. He helped a lot in maintaining the ball and putting us on some really good counter-attacks at the goal.”
LAFC will likely field a 4-3-3 formation, matching that of Sporting KC. Sporting seems to be in a confident mental state, and they appear to be a team that truly plays for one another. Colorado had won 5 of their previous 6 games going into their matchup against Kansas City, so for Sporting to dominate the game in possession time, shots, passing accuracy, along with several others was quite impressive.
LAFC is coming off of a 2-0 win against a last place FC Dallas team. They will need to focus on limiting Sporting’s attack and the dynamic 1-2 punch of Pulido and Salloi. The environment at Children’s Mercy Park should be electric as usual, and Sporting will get the victory in convincing fashion if they are able to carry over their momentum and feed off of the crowd.