Following Sporting Kansas City’s 3-1 victory at the Seattle Sounders last week, Peter Vermes was adamant that fans shouldn’t read too much into such a dominant victory over the conference leaders. He said that neither team was at full strength and the win certainly wasn’t a statement to the league.
If that win wasn’t a statement, then surely Wednesday night’s certainly was. Traveling to the Southern California coast with a full-strength squad, Kansas City became the first road team to score four goals on Los Angeles FC at the Banc of California Stadium en route to a 4-1 victory.
Alas, for Vermes, Sporting KC’s veteran head coach, the victory still wasn’t a statement.
“You get just a little bit full of yourself is when the game of soccer comes back and the gods get you,” Vermes said.
He instead saw the game as a bounce-back victory after KC’s 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas last weekend, saying that KC simply defeated a “very, very good team” in LAFC.
Newly announced Major League Soccer All-Star Daniel Salloi was joined by Alan Pulido, Luis Martins and Gadi Kinda as goalscorers on the night.
Salloi also provided the assist on Martins’ goal to bring his goal contributions for the season up to a league-best 15.
A tough night may have been on the cards for LAFC before the first kick had even been taken as the hosts entered the game without starting defenders Eddie Segura and 2021 MLS All-Star selection Jesús David Murillo.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that LAFC fielded a full-strength team across the rest of the field, including 2021 MLS All-Stars Diego Rossi, Carlos Vela and Eduard Atuesta.
The loss of Segura and Murillo forced LAFC to put together a patched-together backline, including several fullbacks playing in central positions.
LAFC also started the game in a 3-4-3 formation with two wingbacks, leaving its back three extremely vulnerable whenever KC broke through the midfield.
“I think we were very dangerous on the counter-attacks and the way we defended in the midfield and the transition from there and just running at them,” Salloi said. “I think they couldn’t handle that and that was the key.”
One of those wing backs-turned-centerback was Marco Farfan, who along with Tristan Blackmon exhibited poor communication to open the door for KC’s opening goal.
A long clearance from Graham Zusi bounced through to the pair of defenders, but as neither committed or communicated with goalkeeper Tomas Romero, KC’s Khiry Shelton burst through the duo to put himself in pole position.
Shelton was ultimately clattered by Romero as he charged out, allowing the ball to bounce out to Pulido, who passed into an open net in the 20th minute.
Saturday night was Pulido’s first game for KC since returning from the Mexican National Team’s Gold Cup roster. He met the team in LA and hadn’t trained with KC for over a month yet still started the game.
“For him to just jump right in today and be as good as he was, without playing with us for a month, says so much about him,” Vermes said. “He doesn’t get enough credit, and I don’t know why that is.”
Martins doubled the lead eight minutes later with his first MLS goal, but it was Salloi who stole the show on both Martins’ goal and the third goal of the game.
Receiving the ball out wide, Salloi charged into LA’s box before cutting the ball back into the path of Martins, allowing the defender to slide home into the far right corner.
Combining Martins’ goal with Zusi’s two assists, Sporting KC’s wingback pair produced one of the most lethal combinations that KC has seen from its backline this season.
Even as Martins had to deal with the threat of Vela, and Zusi with Brian Rodriguez and Rossi, the KC duo locked down LA’s front line while remaining incredibly dangerous on the attack.
“So I thought both of them did a great job, I thought Luis was in a lot of respects a man possessed, won a lot of open-field tackles,” Vermes said. “Was so good on winning them and then pushing the game forward and getting into the attack, he was excellent.”
Salloi then added a third in the 36th minute, volleying home at the near post from a low Zusi cross.
Salloi’s goal signaled the first time since 2010 that Sporting KC has scored three goals in the first half on the road.
The Hungarian winger’s command of the game will be a bittersweet pill for LAFC coach Bob Bradley to swallow. Salloi was announced as one of Bradley’s 13 coach’s picks for the All-Star game earlier on Wednesday, giving the LAFC coach an in-person glimpse at the type of player he’ll be coaching at the All-Star game on Aug. 25.
Salloi also scored the late winner for Sporting KC in the first fixture between the two teams in late June.
Salloi chatted briefly with Bradley following the game, thanking the LAFC coach for selecting him for the roster. Despite his side’s loss, Salloi said Bradley congratulated him on an excellent season so far and the selection is well deserved.
LAFC pushed Kansas City hard in the second half as it fought to get back into the game, taking 21 shots on goal but unbelievably only getting one of those on target.
Unfortunately for Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, that one shot on target found the back of the net as Danny Musovski broke through in the 82nd minute.
But by then the game was already out of sight thanks to a 58th-minute header from Kinda after a dangerous early cross from Zusi found the Israeli international unmarked in the box.
Thanks to Seattle’s 1-1 tie earlier in the night, Kansas City has moved to top spot in the Western Conference with a game in hand over Seattle.