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Sporting KC scores early and late, advances

staff and wire reports
Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) is congratulated by teammate Graham Zusi after scoring a goal against Real Salt Lake during the first half of the final group play game in the MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando. Sporting claimed a 2-0 win to advance to the knockout stage. [Kim Klement]USA TODAY Sports]

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Sporting Kansas City keeps building after a first-game collapse in the MLS is Back tournament.

Johnny Russell scored in the first minute, Gerso Fernandes added an insurance goal in the closing minutes and Sporting Kansas City secured its spot in the knockout round of the tournament with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

After a 2-1 loss to Minnesota United on two goals in stoppage time in its tournament opener, Sporting Kansas City (4-1-0) finished with six points after two wins in the group stage to secure a spot in the round of 16.

“I’m glad in league play we’re 4-1,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said at the post-game news conference. “We had a tough game in the first game here unfortunately. We lost a game we should’ve had in our back pocket. … I really like the reaction of the team since then. It seems like from game to game we’re getting stronger and stronger. … It’s a good way to finish these three games.”

Kansas City will finish either first or second in Group D depending on the outcome of Minnesota United's match against Colorado late Wednesday.

Russell's goal was the fifth in Kansas City history scored in the opening minute of the match and the first since 2013. He found himself on the end of a scramble in the penalty area and his right-footed shot beat Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath. It was the first goal allowed by Salt Lake in the tournament.

“It came off a few bodies, and then a ricochet and then just dropped to me nicely and I caught it well on the right foot – it doesn’t happen to often,” Russell said. “It was nice to get the early goal and get settled. It settles you down when you’ve got that goal behind you.”

Even after the early goal, Kansas City struggled to create many chances until Fernandes found space inside the penalty area in the 86th minute. Alan Pulido, who assisted on both goals, found Fernandes out wide, and his quick cut inside and left-footed shot curled past MacMath and inside the far post.

It was the first goal of the season for both Russell and Fernandes, and just the third win for Kansas City in the past 15 matches against Salt Lake.

After the late collapse in the first game of the tournament, Vermes was happy to see his team close out this game.

“I thought we finished really, really strong on two fronts – one, physically, and also the way we managed the game,” Vermes said.

Russell was happy Sporting was able to fend off several chances by Real Salt Lake and claim the win

“We started well,” Russell said. “Obviously getting the early goal helps, but they had good periods in the game, and I thought we weathered them and then we finished strong.

“... We learned from our mistakes in the first game and we’ve moved on since then. … It was a complete performance today.”

Real Salt Lake (1-1-3) managed just one shot on target but will still advance to the knockout stage of the tournament as one of the top four third-place finishers. Salt Lake opened the tournament with a win over Colorado and a draw against Minnesota.