Nov 11, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting Kansas City celebrate a goal by Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez (6) in the second half in the Western Conference semifinal at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The exclamation echoed through the hall leading to Sporting Kansas City’s locker room, and into the press conference room of Children’s Mercy Park: “F*** yeah!” SKC had just taken down Real Salt Lake 4-2 in the second leg of their MLS Western Conference semifinal. It took stopping some serious pinball action from Salt Lake and a truly last-second Daniel Salloi no-look goal, but Sporting advanced to the Western Conference final for the first time since it won the MLS Cup in 2013.
It was a party atmosphere in Kansas City’s locker room.
Salloi, boasting a bruised lip – “I think somebody punched me in the face from my team” – had been at the center of the celebration mob moments before.
With the clock ticking toward the end of the seven allotted minutes of stoppage time, the announced 19,918 in attendance at Children’s Mercy Park was already in a frenzy, calling for the final whistle. Sporting was up 3-2, but Salt Lake could have advanced by aggregate, with a draw involving four or more total goals (a tie of 2-2, 3-3, etc).
Trying to waste time, Yohan Croizet took the ball on the near side and launched it across the field where Salloi was waiting.
RSL keeper Nick Rimando had already come out way past his line, and Salloi was all alone. Looking back up field at his team, Salloi booted in his second goal of the night. It was the last kick of the game.
“I tried to just go around him (Rimando) — and then I watched a couple (Roberto) Firmino videos this week, so I just did the no-look goal,” Salloi said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
It came at the perfect time. Real Salt Lake put up 12 chances in the second half – a flurry of them in the final 15 minutes of the match – and was still challenging in the final seconds.
Sporting had taken a bit of a breath in the 66th minute, when Ilie Sanchez’s penalty kick gave Kansas City its second two-goal cushion. Midfielder Felipe Gutierrez, who assisted both of Sporting’s first-half goals, was again the creative behind the action. He slipped around just outside the box, found space and got it to Diego Rubio. On Rubio’s charge toward goal, Salt Lake’s defender took him down. Sanchez coolly converted the PK, lofting it in high and slow.
That put Sporting up 3-1 with less than half an hour to play. But again, Salt Lake would pull within a goal, setting up the chaotic final moments. Off a corner kick lofted into the box, Damir Kreilach headed in Salt Lake’s second score, in the 72nd minute.
From that point on, Sporting played on its heels, desperately trying to keep Salt Lake out of its goal.
“They had some incredible chances in and around the goal,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. “We were fighting for everything.”
It had not been that difficult earlier in the day: Kansas City went into halftime with a commanding 2-0 lead. Gutierrez, who missed most of the summer because of a hernia surgery, was behind both first-half scores.
The midfielder got under a ball that Johnny Russell floated over the top, and slid it into Rubio. Rubio had an easy shot waiting, and slammed in Sporting’s first goal in the 14th minute.
Just four minutes later, Gutierrez dribbled through the middle and snaked the ball through three defenders for Salloi.
But it was Salloi’s second goal, the one with barely seconds remaining in the match, that would be the seal.
“To get the fourth goal was deserving,” Vermes said. “Let’s put it that way. It was deserving. We just deserved to win the game the way that we did. … It was nerve-racking. I also said to myself during the flurry and all that stuff was going on, I said, ‘Look, if you can’t get through this game, if you can’t do it, then you don’t deserve to move on.’ That’s just the way the playoffs are. And I believe that we’re a team that can get through those moments, and we did.”