Sporting Kansas City has been one of the top road teams in MLS this season and looks to continue that trend against Minnesota United when the two sides meet Sunday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.
Sporting KC has won three of its past four overall games, including a stunning 2-0 victory on May 9 at Atlanta in its most recent match. Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes scored second-half goals against a short-handed Atlanta United side, and goalkeeper Tim Melia had eight saves in the win.
Melia, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, showed against Atlanta United why he might be Sporting KC’s most indispensable player. His eight saves were the second-highest total of his career (he had 10 in a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy last month), and he kept his fifth MLS clean sheet of 2018 while moving up to second in the league with 38 saves.
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Melia said that as good as the victory at Atlanta was for his team, it’s too early in the season to consider it a statement.
“None of that stuff is important to us,” Melia said. “We’ve played 11 games, and things are going to change drastically in this league as everybody knows. Right now, we just need to focus on that we came here. We got a really good result, and we need to get ready for our next match.”
SKC (7-2-2, 23 points, the best record in the Western Conference) already has more road wins (three) and as many road goals (10) as it had in all of 2017. It has not had four road wins in a season since 2015. But don’t think for a minute that Sporting will take the Loons lightly.
“We don’t look at it as being anything but a tough game,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said of the matchup against Minnesota. “It’s not an easy place to play, that’s for sure, and they have a real intensity about them in the way they play, especially at home. For us, big thing is matching intensity. At the same time, we’re going to have to play our game in going in there.”
The Loons played well in a 3-1 home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes on May 12 but not well enough to overcome mistakes. The setback was the second straight for Minnesota United (4-7-0, 12 points) after the Loons had won twice in a row.
Forward Christian Ramirez returned from a hamstring injury to start up top in a preferred 4-2-3-1 formation against the Earthquakes and scored Minnesota United’s only goal in the 26th minute.
Ramirez and playmaker Darwin Quintero combined with wingers Miguel Ibarra and Alexi Gomez to lead the Loons’ attack. The four will likely work together again Sunday, and the lineup looks to be United’s go-to going forward
Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said the attack bodes well for the future.
“The interchange, and the combination play of the people in the front positions,” Heath told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune when asked what went well. “I thought Darwin Quintero was fantastic. I really did. And we’re starting to play better with him now. So that’s a real positive for us moving forward. I know we will get better at forward areas.”
Minnesota conceded three goals in its last home game after not giving up more than one goal in any of its previous four home games this season.
“Goals change games at really important moments and it comes back to haunt you if you don’t take your opportunities,” Heath said after the loss to San Jose. “They are huge, pivotal moments in a game, and you have to take the opportunities when they come along, and we didn’t. That’s the harsh realities of football at this level.”
The sides played to a standoff in their first three meetings a year ago, each winning at home before playing to a 1-1 draw on Oct. 7 in Minneapolis.