For the first time in their brief four-year history, Minnesota United welcomed an MLS side to the National Sports Center in Blaine as a part of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Minnesota was coming off a weekend league match that saw them defeat Miami FC 3-1. Sporting KC were coming off a two week Copa America Centenario break.
A healthy contingent of fans for both sides attended with many Sporting fans making the journey up I-35. The Dark Clouds and True North Elite supporters were in full voice for the home side, while the Sporting Kansas City fans were scattered about both stands.
Both sides fielded most of their regular squad with a few changes. Minnesota United opted for its standard 4-2-3-1 employing two holding midfielders while Kansas City played in a 4-3-3 formation.
Kansas City was missing three key players; central defender Matt Besler and wide man Graham Zusi on duty with the US Men’s National Team, while starting goalkeeper Tim Melia was on the bench. Along with Melia on Sporting’s bench were Kevin Ellis, Chance Myers, Diego Rubio, Brad Davis, Justin Mapp, and Jordi Quintilla.
Minnesota United started almost the same team that defeated Miami FC last Saturday with three changes. Ben Speas started the game on the bench, with Ibson taking the number 10 role. Jack Blake was replaced by Juliano Vicentini, and Jeb Brovsky returned from injury to start as a holding midfielder. Also on United’s bench was Aaron Pitchkolan, Jamie Watson, Lance Laing, Kristian Nicht, JC Banks, and Ismaila Jome.
From the start, it was clear this would be a contentious match, with neither team was afraid to play physically. The Loons started on the front foot, but Sporting quickly found their feet and created chances. With the central midfield clogged, both teams attempted to play down the wings with speed. The first ten minutes was a back-and-forth affair with Kansas City having the better of possession and chances at goal.
There was some small controversy on 15 minutes when it appeared Kansas City had handled the ball in the penalty area, but the referee didn’t hesitate to wave it off and call a foul on the Minnesota attacking player.
Ndjock was called into action in the 22nd minute when an Ibson giveaway at midfield led to a Medranda ball to Dwyer, who was alone on goal with Sammy Ndjock. The Cameroonian keeper was there to make the save, keeping the match scoreless.
The half ended with only the one real chance for Kansas City; Minnesota had not yet found the frame with a shot. Sporting dominated the possession in the first half, but couldn’t find a way around United’s defense. The Loons, meanwhile, were unable to connect their final passes on the counter.
The second half picked up with the same intensity with which the first had ended. Sammy Ndjock had to collect a high bouncing cross, while at the other end Ibson dribbled through two Sporting midfielders and drew a foul from central defender Opara, who was shown yellow.
In the 54th minute, Kallman was taken down near the United penalty box. Damion Lowe kicked out at Dom Dwyer, who went down, and Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza shoved Lowe to the ground. Sammy Ndjock returned the favor, and a shoving match ensued with the referee in the middle. Ndjock, Espinoza, and Lowe were all shown yellow. After the match was restarted, Vicentini came in hard on Dwyer from behind and received the fourth yellow card in under two minutes.
With United on their heels and the visitors pushing for a goal, Minnesota coach Carl Craig attempted to boost his attack by bringing attacking mid Ben Speas on for Ibson.
The pressure finally paid off for Sporting in the 63rd minute, when a ball to Dwyer in the box saw Kallman go to ground and inadvertently handle the ball. The ref didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot, and Benny Feilhaber slotted the kick to the bottom right corner, with a diving Sammy Ndjock just short of the save.
Danny Cruz was the next offender, booked for a side tackle from behind. Saad Abdul-Salaam, the left back for Sporting KC, was officially cautioned with a yellow card in the 69th minute for pulling on Pinho’s shirt. Ben Speas committed to a sliding tackle from the side and was carded as the Loons pushed forward to try to find an equalizer. Defender Lawrence Olum brought down Danny Cruz and was carded for it as well; the match’s physicality was in full swing and would only grow to the end of the affair.
In the 78th minute, Juliano Vicentini was brought off for JC Banks just before a corner. On the ensuing kick, Banks recovered a rebound and sent a dangerous curler into the box, but the danger was cleared and Sporting KC went on the counter.
In the 79th minute, Danny Cruz got on the end of a ball from Lowe and charged towards the box. Replays were unclear whether Jimmy Medranda took him down inside the box, but the referee pointed to the spot. Christian Ramirez stepped up and hit the same penalty Feilhaber had to the bottom-left corner, and Kann fell as short as Ndjock. The match was tied 1-1 with 7 minutes to play in regulation.
Despite Stefano Pinho having two nice chances and Kansas City having some of their own through Dwyer, neither team could find a winner in the five minutes of stoppage time. The match went to extra time with United having one sub left and Sporting Kansas City having two; they brought Brad Davis on for Jacob Peterson as regulation time came to a close.
Both teams did some frantic defending to start, with Speas in on goal and Dwyer stopped by Lowe. A long ball from Venegas nearly found Ramirez with Kann well off his line, but the pass failed to connect; it was a hectic first three minutes to the period.
The visitors continued to dominate possession, with United having to defend time and again. The visitors struggled to create clear-cut chances on goal, and good defensive work by Kevin Venegas and Damion Lowe eliminated much of the danger.
In the 99th minute, Saad Abdul-Salaam went down with what appeared to be a leg cramp and was replaced by Chance Myers. Sporting KC had a chance to score, but the shot was blocked by Stefano Pinho in the penalty area and cleared. The next big chance fell for Christian Ramirez in the 104th minute off a chested ball by JC Banks, but the shot was blocked by a sliding defender.
As the second period began, Kansas City coach Peter Vermes made his third and final substitution, bringing Diego Rubio on for Dom Dwyer. Minnesota won a corner kick to start the period, but the clearance was right to their own player.
Kansas City thought they found their winner from Rubio, but he was well offside after a save from Ndjock on an initial shot from Jimmy Medranda. Shortly after, Rubio had another chance after a pass from Feilhaber. This time he was onside and made no mistake with an efficient finish over Ndjock’s right shoulder.
Minnesota continued to push forward for another equalizer, still looking to the wings. The Loons threw everything forward that they could, and fans thought they had equalized on a Pinho header, but it rolled just wide. As time drew to a close, Justin Davis was shown a last yellow card for a high boot while trying to reach a rebound. Ultimately the 2-1 scoreline saw out the second period.
After the match Minnesota head coach Carl Craig was asked about the defensive performance of his team and the young pairing of Damion Lowe and Brent Kallman, Craig responded:
Yes they are young and yes they are learning right now… Kallman was a beast for most of the game, I think he ought to get a lot of recognition for his performance and Damion was very good too… There’s little things, whether it’s communication, whether it’s understanding what’s going on… it’s awareness.
He added “They certainly do a lot more positive than the odd slip.”
On starting Ibson over Speas in the number 10 position:
Ibson’s a busybody, and I like his busy-ness, I like his drive… He didn’t get into that position often enough for me, so I was a little disappointed with that.
Craig also commented that he wasn’t getting enough defensive effort from the Brazilian, and that was another reason for his substitution.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes has this to say on the victory:
I thought that that Minnesota was going to be the toughest opponent of any of the teams in the tournament at the moment. Playing up here was going to be tough. I know the team well and know a lot of guys in the organization. I was concerned about that. I thought they were solid in all aspects of their game. We were too. The game was a stalemate in the first half. I thought we were more creative in the second half. A couple of the changes we made in overtime really changed the game a lot. They had to press and they were at home and we took advantage of that.
Late in the game teams are going to throw everything at you – knock balls into the box and I thought we handled it pretty well.
Vermes said he thinks the 2016 team they defeated tonight was better than the Minnesota team they defeated in Kansas City in 2014.
I think this team is more seasoned. There are a lot of guys who have played on the MLS here. I think when you look at those guys not the field they bring a little bit more to the game.
Sporting KC will move on to the round of 16 in the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.