New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City are headed to the quarterfinals in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida.
New York defeated Toronto FC in the first game of Sunday's round-of-16 doubleheader, while Sporting Kansas City survived the Vancouver Whitecaps in penalty kicks in the second game.
While the group-stage games counted toward the 2020 MLS regular-season standings, the knockout stage does not. Sunday marked the first knockout-stage game for all four teams, and the victors are three wins away from winning the makeshift tournament that welcomed the league back from its hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York City FC def. Toronto FC, 3-1
Sporting Kansas City def. Vancouver Whitecaps, 0-0 (3-1 in PKs)
New York City FC Handles Toronto FC
New York City FC was just 1-2 in group play, but it looked like a completely different team in the round of 16.
Jesus Medina wasted no time putting his team on the board with a goal five minutes into the game on a set piece. He found himself wide open on the left side and took advantage of the opportunity to seize momentum for good.
Goaltender Sean Johnson did his part as well, preserving the 1-0 advantage into halftime whenever Toronto threatened.
With Johnson playing well, the lead felt nearly insurmountable when Valentin Castellanos took on a defender on the left side of the box by himself, planted and fired a right-footed blast into the back of the net just 10 minutes into the second half.
Toronto pressed the rest of the way—which eventually led to a Patrick Mullins goal off a beautifully placed Jozy Altidore header—allowing New York to counter and stretch the lead to 3-0 when Maximiliano Moralez was wide open in front of the net.
It was quite the offensive showing after Toronto won its first matchup March 7 with a 1-0 shutout.
New York will take the field for the quarterfinals Saturday and face the winner of Tuesday's game between the Portland Timbers and FC Cincinnati.
Sporting Kansas City Outlasts Vancouver Whitecaps in Penalty Kicks
This game could have been decided by halftime.
After all, Sporting Kansas City enjoyed a 22-4 advantage in shots through the first 45 minutes. OptaJack noted only the San Jose Earthquakes have taken more shots in the first half of an MLS game in the last decade when they attempted 25 in August 2019.
Vancouver goalkeeper Thomas Hasal was having none of it.
Hasal is a third-stringer but looked nothing like the part in a dominant performance to keep his team tied at zero even amid the onslaught of shots. Perhaps Vancouver would not have lost 3-1 when it played Sporting Kansas City in February if Hasal was in the net.
Things didn't change in the second half, as Sporting Kansas City struggled to find the target. In fact, a mere eight of its 36 shot attempts were on target, which took some of the consistent pressure off Hasal's shoulders prior to shootouts with the game tied at zero.
It seemed like just a matter of time before Sporting Kansas City finally pulled away, and it did in shootouts when Vancouver was just 1-of-4 on its attempts.
Sporting Kansas City will look for more accuracy in the quarterfinals when it faces the Philadelphia Union on Thursday.