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Sporting reclaims first place as Johnny Russellstrikes late in 1-0 win over Minnesota

(Sept. 13, 2020) — Sporting Kansas City (6-3-2, 20 points) returned to the summit of the Western Conference with a well-earned 1-0 win over rivals Minnesota United FC (5-4-2, 17 points) on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Johnny Russell’s dramatic 80th-minute strike off a brilliant assist from Graham Zusi separated the sides in a game that Sporting dominated from start to finish, as Minnesota failed to put a single shot on target for the first time ever and suffered their sixth loss in as many visits to Kansas City since joining MLS in 2017.

The resolute victory vaults Sporting two points ahead of second-place Seattle Sounders FC in the ultra-competitive West, while Minnesota keeps provisional hold of third. Goalkeeper Tim Melia’s third shutout of the season came at the expense of a suffocated Loons outfit that entered the night ranking second in MLS in goals per game.

Taking the field for the first time since Sept. 5, Sporting deployed a reshuffled lineup as Manager Peter Vermes made three changes to a side that fell 2-1 at the Houston Dynamo. Luis Martins reprised his left back role-joining Zusi, Matt Besler and Roberto Puncec on the backline-while wingers Russell and Gerso Fernandes jumped back into the starting XI on either side of center forward Khiry Shelton in attack. An unchanged midfield consisted of playmaker Gadi Kinda and Homegrown duo Gianluca Busio and Felipe Hernandez, while Melia started his 182nd game for the club in all competitions.

An electric, end-to-end start saw both sides threaten inside four minutes. Minnesota carved out a rare opening when Jacori Hayes crouched low to settle a cross from Raheem Edwards and lay the ball off to Mason Toye, whose right-footed curler near the top of the box lifted harmlessly over the crossbar.

Not long later, Sporting squandered a glorious chance during a frantic moment in Minnesota’s penalty area. Gerso’s driven cross fell to Hernandez, who then played square to Kinda. The midfielder’s shot was blocked through traffic, and although the rebound skipped invitingly to Russell, his half-volley from 10 yards out fizzed inches wide of goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair’s left-hand post. The Loons breathed another sigh of relief in the sixth minute when Martins’ tantalizing delivery to the back stick was headed off target by Kinda.

The visitors gained a decisive foothold as the half wore on and had a 15-1 shot advantage by intermission. On the half-hour mark, Zusi’s thunderous, long-range volley caromed off a Minnesota defender and behind for a corner kick. The Loons failed to clear Busio’s ensuing in-swinger and Gerso slithered past a pair of defenders before picking out an open Puncec, but his first-time effort sailed wayward.

The industrious Shelton asked more questions of the Loons defense in the 37th minute, bursting into the box and prompting St. Clair into a save. Zusi, Gerso and Martins all tried their luck on the brink of halftime, none providing the elusive breakthrough.

Sporting kept firm control of proceedings after the restart despite the introduction of high-profile Minnesota substitutes Chase Gasper, Robin Lod and Kevin Molino, all of whom have featured as regular starters over the course of the year. Two minutes into his second-half cameo, 19-year-old Homegrown midfielder Cam Duke galloped down the left flank and played centrally to Gerso, who lashed a blistering shot wide of the near post. The fleeting look preceded two golden opportunities for the hosts at the hour mark.

In the 59th minute, Sporting broke on a quickfire counter-attack involving Martins and Gerso that culminated with a side-footer from Kinda that dragged inches amiss. Shortly thereafter, Duke and Kinda sprung forward and found a streaking Gerso, but his resulting shot once again misfired by the slimmest of margins.

Minnesota survived a major scare on 66 minutes, as Gerso’ delectable clip across the face of goal was settled well by Russell. The Scottish international cut centrally and unfurled a low piledriver that Loons defender Bakaye Dibassy booted clear off the goal line.

With 10 minutes remaining and Sporting still in command, Russell would not be denied. Zusi floated a superb long ball over the top, allowing the forward to race behind the backline, take a touch and slot low past St. Clair for the proverbial knockout punch.

Russell bagged his third goal of the season on the play and the 24th of his Sporting career in all competitions, while Zusi tabbed his 28th game-winning assist in the MLS regular season-tied for eighth-most in MLS history and the second-most among active players. The goal also pushed Sporting’s scoring streak to 11 matches, the team’s second-longest run to start a regular season and one shy of equaling the club record.

Having beaten Minnesota for the second time in 24 days, Sporting will now prepare for the next phase of the continued MLS regular season. Vermes’ side is back in action Saturday as fellow MLS originals FC Dallas (3-2-4, 13 points) venture to Children’s Mercy Park for a 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff. The contest will air live nationally in Spanish on Univision and UniMas and regionally in English on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO.

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