Sporting Kansas City 3-1 Vancouver: Hosts dominate to advance to West semis
Photo: Amy Kontras/USA Today Sports

Sporting Kansas City advanced in the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first round at Children's Mercy Park.

Goals from Khiry Shelton, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Graham Zusi sent third seed SKC to the Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake or Seattle. Cristian Dajome scored Vancouver's only goal from the penalty spot in the 39th minute.

  • Story of the match

The hosts carved out their first chance in the sixth minute as Shelton found a pocket of space near the left edge of the box and fed Daniel Salloi, who swiveled centrally and forced a save from Vancouver keeper Maxime Crepeau.

A minute later, Gadi Kinda—making his 50th competitive appearance for Sporting—received a square pass from captain Johnny Russell, took a touch to his left and blazed a 20-yard shot inches wide of the right post.

SKC found the opener in the 17th minute as Zusi sent a diagonal ball that Salloi ran down and he fed it back to Zusi, who advanced into Vancouver’s penalty area.

The 35-year-old right back volleyed a first-time cutback from the right side to Shelton, who deftly prodded low into the left corner past Crepeau to make it a 1-0 game. 

The hosts nearly doubled their lead in the 24th minute. Kinda did brilliantly to win a midfield duel and spun away with possession before setting Salloi free down the left flank. The MLS MVP finalist saw his low drive blocked through traffic.

Not long later, Russell was on the end of two good looks as he took a pass from Remi Walter and dragged an attempt wide on the right edge of the box before Crepeau easily saved his long-range effort.

Vancouver leveled terms against the run of play, thanks in part to the intervention of VAR Drew Fischer. After a Whitecaps free-kick struck the arm of Sporting defender Luis Martins inside the penalty area, head official Alan Kelly was prompted to take a second look.

He awarded a penalty to the visitors and Dajome converted the ensuing spot kick by slotting low into the corner on his playoff debut.

Isimat-Mirin marked his maiden MLS playoff appearance with what was the eventual match-winner. Russell’s in-swinging corner kick was cleared only as far as Shelton, whose cushioned header glanced across the face of goal and was poked home on the doorstep by the Frenchman.

Zusi doubled SKC's lead in the 58th minute as Salloi was isolated on the left channel and dribbled centrally before laying the ball off to the 13-year MLS veteran, who took a settling touch before unleashing a 30-yard howitzer into the top left corner for his first career playoff strike.

In the 69th minute. Vancouver broke forward and Bruno Gaspar sent a teasing cross into the mixer for Brian White, who snapped a header goalward. Tim Melia, who recorded his 100th victory, sprung to his right to produce a fantastic save on the goal line. 

Vancouver committed numbers forward in the late stages and were almost caught out in the 85th minute as on the breakaway Shelton could have doubled his goal tally for the day, but his shot under duress skipped wide of the mark.

The Whitecaps thought they had grabbed a goal back on 86 minutes when Gaspar crossed low for Lucas Cavallini to fire into the back of the net at close range, but the offside flag went up and Gaspar was issued a yellow card for punting the ball into the stands in frustration.

  • Man of the match: Graham Zusi

At age 35, he showed he still can be as good as ever, producing a vintage performance with his goal and assist and continuing to add on to a legacy as one of the greatest players in club history.