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Sporting suffers late 2-1 loss to Minnesota in MLS is Back Tournament opener

(July 12, 2020) — Sporting Kansas City (2-1-0, 6 points) surrendered a late lead in a 2-1 defeat to Minnesota United FC (3-0-0, 9 points) on Sunday in the club’s MLS is Back Tournament opener at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Walt Disney World.

Forward Khiry Shelton fired Sporting ahead on the cusp of halftime, but the Loons struck twice in second-half stoppage time with an own goal and a last-gasp winner from Kevin Molino after goalkeeper Tim Melia received a red card in the 74th minute to reduce Sporting to 10 men.

Sunday’s clash, which pitted two teams that began the 2020 MLS regular season with consecutive wins, gives Minnesota early pole position in Group D of the MLS is Back Tournament, which will see the top two or three finishers in the four-team group advance to the knockout rounds later this month. Sporting will look to rebound Friday at 7 p.m. CT when they face longtime rivals Colorado Rapids on ESPN2.

With his team returning to competitive action for the first time in 127 days, Manager Peter Vermes made one lineup change from Sporting’s first two victories to open the campaign. Gerso Fernandes earned his first start of the season, replacing Johnny Russell as part of a three-man attack alongside Shelton and Alan Pulido. In defense, right back Graham Zusi notably recorded his 300th career MLS appearance for Sporting, becoming one of 12 active MLS players to reach the milestone.

A dominant first half display saw Sporting conjure their first clear chance in the 15th minute when Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller touched an out-swinging Luis Martins corner kick only as far as Ilie Sanchez, who volleyed marginally wide on the right side of the box. Shortly thereafter, Gadi Kinda latched onto Graham Zusi’s delicious cross from the right flank and hammered inches high on his first touch.

Minnesota mustered a single shot attempt in the first 45 minutes, with midfielder Jan Gregus unleashing a venomous 35-yard drive that Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia did well to tip over the crossbar with his fingertips.

The Loons quickly reverted to the backfoot as Sporting’s Roger Espinoza almost opened the scoring twice in quick succession. In the 36th minute, Kinda settled a cutback pass from Gerso and teed up Espinoza, whose curling effort near the top of the penalty area was pushed aside by the diving Miller. On Martins’ ensuing corner, the Honduran glanced a header just wide of the far right post.

Shelton lifted Sporting into a deserved lead two minutes before the break, rounding off a fluid counter-attack to break the deadlock. Pulido’s superb move past Minnesota captain Michael Boxall at midfield gave Sporting a numerical advantage in the attacking half, and the Mexican spread the ball right to Shelton who slotted low inside the near post for his second goal of the season.

The game’s complexion changed during the final half-hour, much to the chagrin of a Sporting outfit that controlled the first 60 minutes. The Loons thought they had equalized in the 63rd minute, but Molino was deemed to be offside after a VAR stoppage to wipe away Ethan Finlay’s would-be equalizer. Five minutes later, substitute Aaron Schoenfeld rattled the woodwork with a shot from the left side of the box.

Schoenfeld made a further impact in the 74th minute, racing behind the Sporting defense and crashing to the turf following a challenge from Melia. Sporting’s keeper was ejected for the foul-his first red card since 2014-prompting the introduction of Richard Sanchez for his club debut.

The Loons wasted a chance to level terms in the 90th minute when Hassani Dotson’s point-blank diving header floated off target, but parity was restored two minutes later on an unfortunate Shelton own goal after Gregus whipped a teasing free kick into the crowded penalty area.

With momentum on their side, Minnesota grabbed a 97th-minute winner to deny Sporting a result and continue their perfect start to the season. Raheem Edwards and Romain Metanire were involved in a buildup that culminated with Molino hammering low into the corner from the penalty spot.

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