May 9, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) goes airborne as he attempts a shot against Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara (3) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA (AP) — Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes scored second-half goals and Tim Melia came up with huge saves, leading Sporting Kansas City to a 2-0 road victory over short-handed Atlanta United.
The result snapped United’s eight-game unbeaten streak Wednesday night in a showdown between the two conference leaders in Major League Soccer.
Atlanta played the last 56 minutes a man down after goalkeeper Brad Guzan was given a red card for taking out Kansas City’s Khiry Shelton just outside the penalty area. Rookie keeper Paul Christensen, an emergency signee filling in for injured backup Alec Kann, made a big save shortly after entering but couldn’t hold off a Sporting team with an extra player.
In the 67th minute, Salloi curled a shot from beyond the box to beat a diving Christensen just inside the right post. In the closing minutes, with United pressing forward in search of the tying goal, Fernandes took a long pass and went in all alone on Christensen, deking out the 22-year-old keeper and guiding the clinching goal into an open net.
Melia made eight saves, including a pair of acrobatic stops on free-kick specialist Kevin Kratz that prevented Atlanta from escaping with a point. Finishing off the clean sheet, Melia got a hand on Miguel Almiron’s last-gasp attempt, knocking the ball off the post and leaping on top of the loose ball.
Almiron walked away shaking his head, and the referee blew the whistle to end the game. Melia was swarmed by his teammates, celebrating his brilliant performance before an announced crowd of 44,696 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta went a man down in the 34th minute when Shelton broke in all alone and Guzan darted off his line to challenge the streaking Kansas City player. But Guzan got there a split-second too late, clipping Shelton’s left ankle with his right foot to send the forward flying through the air.
The referee immediately brought out the red card, meaning United would have to go the rest of the way without its No. 1 keeper. Atlanta was already short-handed at that position, having brought up Christensen from Atlanta United 2 in the second-tier United Soccer League when Kann couldn’t suit up because of a knee injury.
Right away, the rookie had to face a dangerous free kick from the top of the box but the shot curled harmlessly wide of the post. Early in the second half, Christensen came up huge when Johnny Russell raced past a defender to collect a pass in the area. Christensen darted aggressively off his line and blocked the left-footed blast with his stomach.
Before Guzan’s flagrant foul, United largely controlled play in the opening half.
Josef Martinez appeared to put the home side ahead in the sixth minute after collecting a deflected pass in front of the goal, losing defender Ike Opara with a nifty move to his left foot and ripping a shot past Melia. But Martinez was offside, leading to a video review that overturned the goal.
United had several more chances to break up the clean sheet. Melia swatted away a header by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, got in front of a backfooted flick by Martinez and stuffed a chance by Hector Villalba, who broke free in front of the net on a perfectly-timed pass from Darlington Nagbe.
The red card on Guzan cost United in multiple ways. Villalba was subbed out to get Christensen on the field, costing Atlanta one of its top scoring threats.