Forward Erik Hurtado struck in the 88th minute as Sporting Kansas City (9-11-7, 34 points) claimed an invaluable 1-0 victory over Minnesota United FC (12-9-6, 42 points) on Thursday night at Children’s Mercy Park. The hard-earned result vaults Sporting within three points of playoff positioning in the Western Conference, giving the side palpable momentum entering the final seven-game stretch of the regular season.
In a tightly contested match that saw Sporting unleash 22 shot attempts and force Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone into five saves, Hurtado provided the all-important breakthrough after racing onto a delectable Johnny Russell through ball and slotting home from a tight angle. The strike helped Sporting preserve their perfect home record against the Loons (5-0-0 in all competitions) and denied Minnesota the opportunity to solidify their hold on second place in the West.
Played before a national television audience on ESPN as part of Heineken Rivalry Week, Thursday’s encounter began brightly with Sporting on the front foot. After a deluge of early shots missed the mark, Russell had the game’s first clean look in the 15th minute. He intercepted an errant clearance from Mannone and carried the ball goalward, but his resulting curler near the edge of the box was saved.
The Loons weren’t without attacking intent of their own, and Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia made two of his five saves just past the half-hour mark. He sprawled low to palm away Jan Gregus’ blistering effort, then sprung to his feet and smothered Mason Toye’s rebound to keep the game scoreless. Not long later, Minnesota center back Ike Opara-making his highly anticipated Children’s Mercy Park return after a six-year stint in Kansas City-headed marginally wide off a Gregus corner.
The final flashbulb moments of the first half gave Minnesota two scares. Luis Martins’ seething drive required Mannone to punch aside for a Sporting throw-in, shortly before Hurtado’s off-balance shot rattled through the keeper’s legs and dribbled wide.
Russell went agonizingly close to firing the hosts ahead three minutes into the second half, receiving a clever pass from Hurtado only to see his bending blast take a slight deflection and loop inches over the crossbar. Eleven minutes later, an active Daniel Salloi-who represented Sporting’s lone change in the starting lineup as Jimmy Medranda’s replacement-did well to slide a through ball into Hurtado’s path, but Mannone produced a fine stop at the near post.
Gerso Fernandes entered as a 74th-minute substitute and had an instant impact on proceedings, marauding down the left flank and swinging in a brilliant cross for Hurtado. Minnesota defender Michael Boxall slid to prevent the ball from reaching its intended target, but the intervention prompted Mannone into a reflex save to avoid an own goal.
Sporting’s late search for a winner and its concomitant drama made for a gripping finale, and the hosts were finally rewarded with two minutes left. Substitute Ilie Sanchez found Russell in a pocket of space, allowing the Scottish international to roll a pass in behind the Loons defense for Hurtado to chase. The striker rounded the on-rushing Mannone and finished with conviction, bagging his second goal of 2019, supporters and teammates alike burst into cathartic celebration.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men preserved their 1-0 lead to the final whistle and will now have the weekend off before preparing for another home match next Saturday, Aug. 31, against the Houston Dynamo (9-13-4, 31 points). Led by interim head coach and former Kansas City midfielder Davy Arnaud, Houston occupies 10th place in the West and will have the task of facing an upstart Sporting outfit that now boasts two consecutive victories. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT and tickets for the contest are available now at SeatGeek.com.