Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Benny Feilhaber (Daniel Salloi 89); Gerso (Latif Blessing 83), Dom Dwyer, Jimmy Medranda (Soni Mustivar 79) Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Kevin Ellis, Cameron Porter
Seattle Sounders FC: Stefan Frei; Jordy Delem, Chad Marshall, Tony Alfaro, Oniel Fisher (Brad Evans 78); Alvaro Fernandez, Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson (Harry Shipp 72), Jordan Morris (Seyi Adekoya 77); Nicolas Lodeiro (C), Will Bruin Subs Not Used: Tyler Miller, Nouhou Tolo, Zach Mathers, Clint Dempsey
Referee: Ted Unkel Assistant Referee: Joe Fletcher Assistant Referee: Adam Wienckowski Fourth Official: Sorin Stoica
(May 17, 2017) — Gerso scored a sensational hat-trick on Wednesday to power first-place Sporting Kansas City to an emphatic 3-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park.
The 26-year-old Bissau-Guinean was the first Kansas City player to record an MLS hat-trick since 2010, tallying three times in a rampant second-half performance as Sporting KC (6-2-4, 22 points) pushed its club-record home winning streak to 15 regular season matches – now the longest active run in Major League Soccer – at the expense of the reigning MLS Cup champion Sounders (2-5-4, 10 points).
Goalkeeper Tim Melia produced five saves en route to his league-leading seventh shutout of the season and his fifth in five career regular season appearances against the Sounders, helping Sporting Kansas City move to the summit of the Western Conference table while keeping Seattle stuck in ninth place.
Wednesday’s Retro Night contest was a rematch of the 2016 Western Conference Knockout Round at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, which the Sounders narrowly edged by a 1-0 scoreline. Sporting Kansas City exorcised demons of last October’s playoff defeat by extending its regular season unbeaten streak against Seattle to six matches (4-0-2) since the start of 2015.
Manager Peter Vermes made a single change to the Sporting Kansas City lineup as forward Dom Dwyer returned from a one-game suspension to replace Latif Blessing, the 20-year-old Ghanaian who scored both goals inSaturday’s 2-2 draw at Orlando City SC. Ike Opara notably earned his 50th regular season start for the club, joining captain Matt Besler in central defense to anchor a full-strength backline that also included fullbacks Seth Sinovic and Graham Zusi.
An ultimately resounding win saw the hosts begin slowly, as Sporting Kansas City failed to register a single shot attempt in the first half for the first time in the club’s regular season history. U.S. international Jordan Morris was on the receiving end of the game’s first chance after seven minutes, but his teasing cross was just beyond the reach of target forward Will Bruin. Five minutes later, Seattle’s playmaking talisman Nicolas Lodeiro broke free down the right flank and struck low to force Melia into his first save of the evening.
Melia made two pivotal saves on the stroke of halftime, first thwarting Alvaro Fernandez with an outstretched foot after the Seattle midfielder had raced behind the defense on a breakaway. On the final play before intermission, Melia dove left at full extension to push Roldan’s cleanly struck, long-range blast marginally wide of the post.
Vermes’ men flipped the script entirely once action resumed after the break, converting their two-thirds of possession into chance-creating dominance. Espinoza’s speculative effort in the 53rd minute was Sporting KC’s first of 12 shots during a second-half deluge, which would translate into three goals from the club’s first-year Designated Player. Two minutes later, Opara’s strong header off Benny Feilhaber’s corner kick was finger-tipped over the crossbar by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Gerso bagged his first in the 56th minute when Feilhaber’s shallow corner kick was scuffed clear by Roldan. The winger was quick to react and rifled a left-footed strike that deflected through traffic and nestled just inside the near post, leaving Frei stranded and igniting rapturous celebrations inside the stadium.
Sporting Kansas City needed just two minutes to double the lead. Jimmy Medranda beat Oniel Fisher to a loose ball along the right sideline and swung a curling cross into the penalty area that Gerso struck with the outside of his left boot. The ball pinged off the right post and caromed off Seattle defender Chad Marshall before rolling kindly back into the path of Gerso, who took a composed touch before slotting past Frei to notch his brace.
A rare second-half foray from Seattle required Melia to sprawl left and save a low drive from Fernandez, not long before Gerso lashed high from the top of the box in the 67th minute.
History would be made in the 69th minute as a brilliant, flowing move from Sporting Kansas City culminated in the seventh MLS hat-trick in the club’s 22-year history. Gerso broke down the left side and played centrally to Espinoza, who picked out Feilhaber 30 yards from goal. Zusi marauded into the box on the overlap, receiving a pass from Feilhaber and cutting the ball back close to the right endline. Gerso had timed his run perfectly and hammered a right-footed effort high into the net from 12 yards, becoming the sixth player to score an MLS hat-trick in a Kansas City uniform. Feilhaber also reached a special milestone on the scoring play, picking up his 50th career assist in the MLS regular season.
Seattle’s frustrations were compounded in the 76th minute when Morris’ strike was overturned for offside. The visitors again almost salvaged a consolation goal in the dying embers of the match, but Seyi Adekoya’s header off Roldan’s lofted ball over the top was straight at Melia.
Sporting Kansas City will have just two days’ rest before returning to the fieldSaturday, as Vermes’ men travel north of the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC (4-5-1, 13 points) at BC Place. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO.
Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes
On Gerso’s role as a scorer… “That wasn’t necessarily his responsibility on the (prior) team he played on. So when he came here, the thing that I said to him is I said that he’s going to find himself in a lot of positions that he didn’t find himself in on his old team, which is in front of the goal. So he’s going to have to get a mentality that you’re going to have to take those chances as opposed to just always giving the ball to someone else because he was more of a provider as opposed to being the scorer. So I think he’s been getting accustomed to that pretty well, especially when you look at the games here at home that he’s tucked some balls into the back of the net. The chances he’s been creating, not only for others but for himself, like this past weekend in Orlando when he was a little unlucky the goalkeeper made some very good saves, but he created some very good chances. And the fact that he’s taking those is huge for us. Because as you all know, goal scoring has to come by committee; it can’t be by one guy or two guys, it’s got to be multiple guys. And the fact that he’s getting on the board is huge for us.”
On the playing style of Seattle… “Well it definitely is personnel. As I’ve said before, and no disrespect to other teams that we’ve had here before, this is just a good group. They’re very good on the ball. And they have a very good understanding of how we want to keep it. We normally always have very good balance. If you look at the first half, we gave up one really, really bad situation, but Tim makes a good save and Seth actually clears it as well. If you take that out, then yeah we gave away a few other balls but they never really amounted to anything. But we weren’t very dangerous in the first half. And what I thought was very good in the second half, and we talked about it, was that we needed to move the ball much quicker, and we needed to have better penetrating runs. If you look at all, especially the other two goals that Gerso scored, if you look at the number of players we had in the box, that was the difference between the first half and the second half. The fact that we scored changed the game big time. They had to come and play, and it opened up and we were able to stick the other two in.”
On the team’s confidence after the first goal… “Tim comes up big like I said and Seth does a good job recovering because he was way up the field and he does a great job to recover like that. Coming in nil-nil and knowing full-well that we were going to create chances, if we have the movement like we can do, we’re going to have chances. And I believe in the team. They can be very dangerous and tonight I think we proved it.”
On having multiple players scoring goals… “It makes us more dangerous is what it does. It’s hard to focus in on one person, especially when you have guys not only scoring but, again, it’s more on the kind of movement we have. I think it was the third goal, when you look at the way we went on the counter, and how many guys were trying to run to get on the end of that ball. And for Benny to have the patience to let Zusi’s run develop up the field and push him through, and for Zusi to not just serve the ball blindly into the box, but to cut it back for Gerso to make the run from the left side, you have to look at it in its entirety. And it’s not just that, it’s the movement of the players, it’s the unselfishness, it’s the running off the ball, all of those things are very good. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better and get more and more confidence from what we’re accomplishing thus far.”
On having Zusi create opportunities from the wing… “I mean you always kind of have this idea in your mind of how you want to play, and you see certain things, and what I would say is over the last 12 games or however many we’ve played, in many of the games you saw bits and pieces, and it’s starting to come together more and more. The great thing about the relationship between Gerso and Zusi, is that because Gerso can come inside and be on his left, Zusi has already been a winger so he understands what it’s like to be on the right or the left, so when he can overlap like he does, it’s based on the space that Gerso can create for him and they have good combination play in that regard. And now tonight, I had switched them at halftime, him and Jimmy (Medranda) as well on purpose. Just because we wanted to get him a little wider on the left, and with his runs coming inside, I didn’t expect him to score a goal with his right foot, but it wound up being great. I would say sure, there’s a lot of things that are happening. This is not only what we were thinking about, but give a lot of credit to the players, we’ve been working very hard in training them to accomplish some of the things that we are, and it’s starting to come out in games.”
On tactical adjustments to maintain the team’s success… “Whether it’s that my messages aren’t clear, or that we’re not interpreting it right or that we’re just not ‘on’ that day, moving the ball quickly, playing at our tempo, those types of things are important. What I will say though, is that the big benefit is that we don’t give up the ball in a lot of very critical situations like we used to. A lot of times they lead to one bad play because you’re not balanced or you give up possession because you’re in a bad area and the other team counters and they score. We’ve done a very good job of making sure that does not happen. We’ve been very protective of that. And then the other is that shutouts are everything. Not giving up goals is huge. You win championships by being able to defend really well. That is something that we’ve got to continue to keep doing and get better at. Late in the game we gave up a cross with a free header, you can’t overlook those things, you can’t sweep them under the rug because you’ve won the game. You have to keep getting better at those situations.”
Sporting KC winger Gerso
On recording the team’s first hat trick since 2010… “I’m feeling very happy to be a part of this story. It’s important to get three goals and get this hat trick, but it’s most important to win as a team.”
On the development of chances… “We create a lot of chances, we just have to be calm and go easy because we always can get it.”
On his role as a scorer… “In my past team, I didn’t score so much, but here things are changing. The team is helping me, the coaches are helping me and I’m getting more goals than usual and I’m very happy.”
On his comfort level of playing in MLS… “Sometimes the things just don’t go as we want, but since last week, the things are going really well. I’m very, very happy and my teammates are helping very much to reach these points.”
On adjustments the team made coming out of halftime… “Basically Peter had to scream at us on what we were doing so that we change our mind and we went to the second half with everything.”
Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia
Thoughts on the match… “At the end of the day, the most important thing is we got three points at home and another clean sheet. It was the type of game where he had to grind through some not favorable play, but we came together in the second half and got the result that we needed.”
On the saves right before halftime… “That’s the way our season has gone. Our team does a good job keeping the ball and limiting opportunities to the opposition. I’m grateful to have the team in front of me that I do and I’m always ready to help the team at any moment.”
On Gerso’s performance… “He is popping up in so many good places. Whether it’s with his right foot or left foot, he’s able to pull off defenders and help create things for our offense. His work rate is so good. He’s a special player and I look forward to seeing his evolution with our team.”
Seattle Sounders FC head coach Brian Schmetzer
Thoughts on the match… “The first half was as planned, except for the fact that we didn’t score. If you don’t put teams away when you are playing well, if you don’t have the belief that you can score, if you don’t have a belief that you can win, if you don’t have a belief that you can defend for 90 minutes then you are going to run into problems against a team like Sporting KC or any team in this League. You’ve got to figure out a way to make sure you can believe you can score. That will start a chain reaction and hopefully get us some results.”
On not capitalizing on chances in the first half… “Goals change games. I’m not saying if we would have scored one or two in the first half that the game would have had a different outcome, but it certainly would have put things in our favor and that would have been ideal.”
On getting back on the field at home on Saturday against Real Salt Lake… “The guys in there are pretty frustrated again. They understand that they played well in the first half and they want to get back out there.”
Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan
On rebounding for next weekend’s match… “We have to play better. It will be a different game because home games are a little bit easier. We’ll have more of the ball, but we need to score our chances. Early in the game, we had a couple. If we scored our chances it’s a different game. Obviously they scored three. They weren’t the greatest goals, it was silly mistakes from us and we have to be sharper in that way. We have to be lethal in front of goal.
On playing better than record indicates… “I think we are playing a little bit better than how many points we do have. But still it’s not about playing well, it’s about winning games. That will get you up the standings and that’s what we have to do. At this point, we can play well every game and lose and still be upset. We have to win games in any way, any fashion. Honestly that’s how we got to MLS Cup last year. We fought out games, we played through the 90 minutes and we defended really well and scored our chances.”
On what’s missing… “I think it’s quite a few things. It’s the assist, the pass before the goal. The final product. It’s not being offside when we’re in a good position. It’s defending well. It’s blocking crosses. It’s the whole picture, it’s the whole game. We just have to be better. We have to find those moments. We have to be concentrated and smart with our actions.”
Seattle Sounders FC forward Seyi Adekoya
On his debut… “Super cool moment. I’ve been dreaming about it for so long. When I played youth in Seattle and now I’m wearing a Sounders jersey and get on the field with the first team. Awesome to have gotten on the field, but wish the result turned out better and I wish I could have affected the game in a better way.”
On the moment when his coaches called him over to sub into the match… “Gonzalo Pineda actually came over and he was pointing and I kept looking around. I thought he was pointing to Brad or Clint and then he was like ‘you, no, you, now!’ So it was kind of a funny moment. That’s how I responded to that, I didn’t think I would be called on in that moment, but I am so happy that I was called on in that moment.”
On building on today’s minutes… “I think I got a couple of opportunities and I definitely wanted to have put them away. So I think just going back to training and working harder, working with the coaches and talking to my teammates and making sure I’m in the right place and again trying to affect the game in a good way by scoring or getting an assist.”