"More aggressive" Khiry Shelton nets first goal for Sporting Kansas City

MINNEAPOLIS — Khiry Shelton has been getting accolades for his hard work and selfless play, but a striker’s play is often judged by the goals he creates. On Sunday against Minnesota United FC, he finally notched his first goal for Sporting Kansas City.

“It's the first one and it's the hardest one to get,” said Shelton, who arrived via a trade with NYCFC in December. 

Sporting coach Peter Vermes was effusive with his praise of the young striker.

“He deserves [the goal] because he's been working really hard,” the SKC coach said after the 1-1 draw. “He’s helped us accomplish a lot in a short period of time with accumulating points at home and on the road.”

At 6-foot-3, 191 pounds, the fourth-year forward is often praised as being athletic, but Shelton knows that athleticism is not enough in the very physical MLS.

“I'm built the way I'm built and other people look at it as 'I should always dominate' and it's not the easiest thing,” he said.

Even though Shelton knows he can’t rely on his athleticism alone, it still is an integral part of his game, as he showcased on his eighth-minute goal. Matched up against Loons captain Francisco Calvo on Johnny Russell’s corner kick, Shelton was able to use his size to create the space he needed to head in SKC’s lone goal against Minnesota.

“I was able to take the defender [Calvo] away and come back and create more space for myself,” Shelton said.

For a club in first place in the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City hadn’t really required goal scoring from their new striker. They have had more than enough offensive firepower from Russell and midfielder Felipe Gutierrez, who lead the team with five goals each.

However, with Gutierrez out until at least July following sports hernia surgery, SKC now needs another player to replace Guiterrez’s offensive prowess.

Vermes wanted something different from Shelton against Minnesota, who has started in 11 of Kansas City’s 12 matches this season.

“Sometimes he's too unselfish and as a forward sometimes you've got to be a little selfish,” Vermes explained. “Today he got a little selfish.”

Shelton noticed a change in play style as well.

“I felt more aggressive today,” he said. “I know that if I get myself in certain spots that I can help the team even more.”

Asked if he thought Shelton’s change in attitude boded well for the future, Vermes was optimistic.

“You can see in the game [against Minnesota] he was even more dangerous as time went on. He was very direct at times which was really good.”

It could be an ominous sign for other Western Conference teams that SKC’s striker is gaining confidence.

“Now that I got that [first goal] out of the way I'm sure it's going to open up,” Shelton said. “I just want to help the team win.”