What Daniel Salloi changed to help Sporting Kansas City become the comeback kids

Daniel Salloi – Sporting Kansas City – celebration

For the second straight Sporting Kansas City match, Daniel Salloi was the star of the show.

In Saturday’s 2-1 home victory over LAFC, he curled home the game-winning strike in the 87th minute after a setup feed from Felipe Hernandez. The homegrown forward also sent in the cross that led to Alan Pulido’s equalizer in the 61st minute and drew Tristan Blackmon’s straight red card in the 58th minute that changed the complexion of the Western Conference clash.

Salloi now has seven goals and three assists through 12 games (10 starts), challenging for the Golden Boot presented by Audi lead and firmly putting recent struggles in the rearview mirror. Across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, he combined for one goal and one assist in 35 matches (17 starts). Last year, the Hungary-born attacker managed only six shots across 165 minutes of playing time.

Something has clearly changed, and Salloi offered some insight about how the past offseason transformed his appraoch.

“Back home, it was a difficult time because obviously COVID, we were still in a lockdown, you couldn't really do anything,” Salloi said. “I went home and spent time with my family at home and went to work out. Those were the two things you could do.

“I worked with Shane Tusup, he's an Olympic trainer as well and he helped me a lot with [my] mentality and the trainings he did as well. He taught me a lot of things, but I think it's adopting to my game and I want to give him credit because it changed me a lot. I think my teammates saw it, too. I feel it, too, and I'm glad I worked with him. When I go home again, I'll do it again in the offseason.”

This past Thursday, Salloi placed on Week 9’s Team of the Week presented by Audi, the result of a two-goal, one-assist showing in a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids. And he’s on pace to easily surpass his best-ever season production-wise, having posted 11 goals and three assists in 29 games (26 starts) during the 2018 campaign.

Naturally, SKC teammates have taken notice of how much the 24-year-old, who’s in his sixth professional season, has improved.

“I think it starts with his mentality and how he came in this preseason,” veteran right back Graham Zusi said. “He just seemed like a different person. Everything about his game has been light years ahead of I think where he was last year, and that starts with his mentality. He came in, he worked extremely hard, he pushed himself, both sides of the ball he's been very good for us.

“Every single time he gets the ball, he seems like he's dangerous and he's putting himself in really good spots in and around the goal. And then most importantly, he's putting it in the back of the net as well. I love what I'm seeing from Daniel and I don't see that stopping any time soon this year.”

Salloi's re-emergence is occurring while Sporting hone their come-from-behind mentality. This was their fifth win after falling behind, having to scrap back after LAFC right wingback Kim Moon-hwan bagged the opener in the 24th minute.

Asked about that uncanny ability postgame, Vermess attributed it to his players believing in Sporting’s style of play. That LAFC were reduced to 10 men certainly helped, allowing SKC to reach a league-leading 22 goals scored.

“We have a really interesting, and I mean it in a positive way, mentality within the group because they definitely believe,” Vermes said. “Even though today maybe we weren't as sharp as we have been with the ball and just our circulation of the ball on the field, we still found a way to chip away at the other team.

“I always think it's interesting – it's not easy for a team like us when we always try to drive the game at home. Teams know that coming in, and so they want to take advantage of that. But I wouldn't do it any other way because I think it's part of the entertainment value of this game and for our crowd. We're going to constantly try to be on the front foot, we're going to constantly try to be a team that is aggressive in our mentality to go and score goals. Credit to the guys for staying in the game and finding a way to come back.”

Sporting also suffered a possible setback after Pulido exited in the 76th minute with what Vermes described as a foot laceration that will probably require stitches. Just the other week, Pulido was named to Mexico’s preliminary roster for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup. He was also included on Mexico's roster for pre-Gold Cup friendlies against Panama and Nigeria.

SKC could have buckled after losing their star No. 9, but they found a way. It’s a testament to both their collective resolve and Salloi’s bounce-back year.

“It's having faith in our style of play and not getting away from it when we concede, if we concede,” Zusi said. “You never want to go down early in a game or at all, but the fact that we continue to trust our style and rely on that throughout the whole 90 minutes, eventually that's going to tire a team out and we'll break them down. Then, our finishing has been pretty dang good this year. Just faith in that and that style will get us the win eventually.”