Sporting Kansas City started Thursday night’s MLS Western Conference semifinal looking every bit like a top seed, creating chances and putting visiting Minnesota United under pressure.
Unfortunately for Peter Vermes’ squad, that early domination didn’t produce any goals, and after weathering an early onslaught, the Loons eventually took control as Kevin Molino and Emanuel Reynoso continued their red-hot playoff form, combining on a pair of goals in a three-goal flurry that paved the way for a 3-0 victory at Children’s Mercy Park.
The win sets up a Western Conference final between the Loons and reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders on Monday at Lumen Field in Seattle.
The night started with some good news for the Loons in the form of Alan Pulido’s absence from the Sporting KC starting lineup. The Mexican star has been sidelined with a knee injury, but there was some uncertainty surrounding his availability for Thursday’s match, which he wound up missing.
Without Pulido, Sporting KC watched its early chances go begging, with a trio of big saves keeping the home team off the scoreboard. A goal-line clearance of a Johnny Russell shot by Michael Boxall in the second minute, a top save by Dayne St. Clair that denied a Russell chance in the 14th, and another stunning St. Clair save to deny Robert Puncec just a minute later kept the match at 0-0.
The Loons eventually settled into the match and Molino and Reynoso took over. The pair combined on the opening goal in the 27th minute, with Reynoso springing a streaking Molino with a perfect pass, living the Trinidadian playker to finish perfectly past Tim Melia.
Just eight minutes later, it was Reynoso once against springing Molino, this time with a chipped ball that Molino volleyed past Melia after slipping behind the SKC defense unmarked.
The Sporting KC defense broke down once again in the 39th minute when Bakaye Dibassy headed home a Reynoso corner kick to make the score 3-0.
Sporting KC didn’t offer much of a response, and the second half become a slow march to an inevitable Minnesota United victory.
Man of the Match
Kevin Molino scored the first two Loons goals, but he shares the honors with Emanuel Reynoso, who assisted on all three Minnesota United goals.
Moment of the Match
Michael Boxall’s clearance in the second minute set the tone, because an early Sporting KC goal could have led to a completely different kind of night for the Loons.
Match to Forget
Sporting KC centerbacks Roberto Puncec and Winston Reid had their share of defensive breakdowns, but Johnny Russell will have nightmares about the two early chances he saw saved by Dayne St. Clair.