Sporting KC Tops Undermanned Atlanta United 2-0 in First Matchup at the Benz

Written by Adrian Beecher

Atlanta, GA– In Sporting Kansas City’s first ever visit to Mercedez Benz Stadium on Wednesday night, they shocked the ATL faithful with a 2-0 win over Atlanta United. 44,696 fans packed into the Benz to watch the MLS’s top two teams square off in the cross-conference matchup, that ended with Sporting jumping United for the spot as the top team in the overall league standings by 1 point.

Early pressure from Atlanta United looked to have secured them a goal in the first half, as Josef Martinez put one into the back of the net in the 6th minute. However, after further review from the officials, they would conclude that Martinez was offsides, waiving the goal off.

United continued their pressure and dominated possession until the tide turned in the 34th minute. This is when Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan was issued a straight red and sent off for tackling Khiry Shelton just outside the box. This would leave Atlanta short a man for the rest of the game and send in recently called up keeper Paul Christensen, to rise to the occasion.

Head coach Gerardo Martinez had this to say of Christensen’s performance after the match. “It was very difficult, but he played very well. Furthermore, he had a great save on a one-on-one chance when the game was still tied 0-0.”
Things stayed clean on the board until the 67th minute when Dániel Sallói ripped a shot from outside the box in off the right post and into the back of the net on an assist from Ilie Sánchez to put Sporting KC up 1-0.

Sallói said after the match that they were doing all they could to test the young Christensen, “We knew that this is the keeper’s first game, so we had to test him. It was difficult because they dropped back so it is hard to break a defense like that. We had some shots, but they didn’t hit the target. We kept trying and I really thought that I could curl one. So, I was really happy about that.”

Sporting KC was ripping off shots with a fury in the 2nd half, a total of 11, with only 3 that were on target. They got off 18 shots in total for the duration of the match. Atlanta, on the other hand, was testing Sportings’ Tim Melia in the back on the net all night, with 17 total shots and eight of them being on target, with five on target in the first half alone. Two of his biggest saves of the night for Melia came in the 83rd and 86th minute on leaping-diving save’s off free kicks that sailed over the defensive line for SKC, as Melia kept his clean sheet and the lead intact.

None would pay off for Atlanta, yet two of the three shots on target for SKC found their way to paydirt, with their 2nd goal coming in the 87th minute. It was off the foot of Gerso Fernandes, who crossed up United’s Christensen one-on-one, and then put the shot on goal. United’s Sal Zizzo slid to try and keep the ball from crossing the goalline to no avail.

Atlanta United now heads on the road for a Sunday evening matchup with Orlando City SC, who are riding a smoking hot 6 game winning streak. Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City will enjoy a week and a half off before heading up to Minneapolis for a matchup with Minnesota United on Sunday, May 20th.

(Photo Credit: Terry Mosley / The SkyBoat)

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