Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sporting Advance Past Minnesota in US Open Cup Play

It wasn't the best performance for Sporting KC, but KC got the job done in the end against the NASL Minnesota United and advanced to the 5th round of the US Open Cup.

The first half was not one that most Sporting fans, or fans of soccer in general will want to watch again any time soon. It did have one bright moment early on in the game, when in the seventh minute, Soony Saad was able to get space near the corner of the box and lifted a shot towards the back post that beat Minnesota goalkeeper, Mitchell Hildebrandt, but didn't beat the cross bar as it bounced back into play and was cleared away. The rest of the half was controlled by United who kept KC from really getting much going offensively. They only tested Andy Gruenebaum a couple times, but also looked quite dangerous with other chances, including a drive by Daniel Mendes that went wide of the post and was just out of the reach for Christian Ramirez to turn in. Much of KC's issues were in the midfield, where there was too much space between Lawrence Olum and KC's other two midfielders, Claudio Bieler and Victor Munoz. Munoz especially had an extremely poor debut for Sporting making some poor passes and losing possession on a number of occasions. His night ended early when he picked up a hamstring injury after losing the ball near midfield in the 35th minute. Alex Martinez was inserted for the Spaniard and really helped to fill the gap in midfield for KC as they were able to gain more of the possession over the final 10 minutes of the half. The problem was that possession started to become what seems to have become traditional KC possession in the Open Cup against lower division sides. Keeping possession in a semi-circle around the opponents box and in their end of the field with little in the way of ideas to break it down.

The possession for KC continued early in the second half as well. But things changed in the 50th minute, when former Missouri Comet, Cristiano Dias was given a straight red card for a challenge on Dom Dwyer. Dias came in hard for an aerial challenge with the Englishman but did so recklessly in the eyes of the referee. Watching the replays you could also say that he led with his forearms into the challenge. The red card was a blow for United as they had up to that point looked the better of the two teams and the one more likely to find the net. From that point KC was the one that really pressured the game, with Dwyer forcing a good save out of Hildebrandt on a quick turning shot. Minutes later he did well again coming off his line to make a block on a shot by Seth Sinovic who'd gotten in behind Minnesota's defense. Even a man down, United still looked dangerous, with Ramirez going just wide of Gruenebaum's post after he turned Erik Palmer-Brown the wrong way with some good skill. KC finally broke the deadlock in the 76th minute. After a cross into the box was cut out, the ball fell to Olum who slid the ball across to Saad who fired a shot from outside the box. With all the bodies in front of him it seems Hildebrandt may have been shielded from seeing the ball as the shot skipped and went inside his near post giving KC the 1-0 lead. Minnesota pushed the game trying to find an equalizer, forcing some rough defending from KC, and some luck. A header off a United corner went just over the bar. KC continued to push themselves as well, looking to add to the lead. In the 87th minute they were able to do that. Sal Zizzo got played into the box for Toni Dovale. Zizzo's initial pass to the back post for Dwyer was deflected by a United defender. Zizzo though recollected the loose ball and laid it back to Martinez who was trailing the play. Martinez slotted the ball into the corner, doubling KC's lead. While Minnesota pressured late in the game they weren't able to find a goal as KC advanced to play the Portland Timbers next Tuesday.

Wizards Man of the Match - Alex Martinez
- Settled KC's midfield immediately when he entered the game. Helped to close the gap between the defense and the attackers. Was extremely active in midfield and got the goal he's deserved for the last few games.

Player Ratings
- Gruenebaum 6, Peterson 6, Palmer-Brown 6, Ellis 6, Sinovic 6, Olum 5, Munoz 3, Bieler 4, Dovale 6, Dwyer 5, Saad 7. Subs Martinez 7, Zizzo 6, Sapong NR.

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