3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 3-3. Just like that, Sporting Kansas City dropped what should have been a lock-stock-and-barrel three points, and somehow managed to allow the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps to come back from down 3-0, to hand Sporting KC something that felt much more like a loss than a road draw. Camilo Sanvezzo will be lauded with great praise for his pair of stoppage time goals, (and with good reason) but it was the Sporting KC backline that absolutely fell apart down the stretch. No other way around it.
Perhaps it was building all night, because goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen absolutely stood on his head, as they say in hockey when a keeper is saving everything coming his way, and singlehandedly kept Sporting in position to still win the game, while what was supposed to be KC's first-choice backline, now finally healthy and making their first start of the season as a unit, let in chance after chance on the the Danish keeper's goal. Nielsen made no less than five MLS Save of the Week nominee worthy saves, but not even he can be expected to make circus stops a dozen times a game.
It seems as if it were a million years ago that Sporting forward Teal Bunbury was toying with the Whitecaps backline, making them look silly and shushing Canadian national team fans everywhere, on his way to a spectacular brace, picked up on either side of the halftime break. The 21-year old opened the scoring in first half stoppage time with one of the better struck balls in MLS to this point of 2011. Coming off the left corner at the top of the 18-yard box, he took about a half step to load up a rocket to the bottom of the back post, making it 1-0 Kansas City.
As if that wasn't enough to take the venom out of Canadian supporters that were still upset with Bunbury over his national team switch last November from Canada to the United States, his second goal was even more delightful to the eye. Getting on the end of a long ball over the top played by midfielder Milos Stojcev in the 58th minute, he pulled a little dipsy-doo on a Vancouver defender, cut inside onto his left foot and hammered home the second goal of the game from the right corner of the 6-yard box. Sporting were cruising.
And, things weren't about to let up anytime soon. Just four minutes later, KC made it 3-0, thanks to a powerful strike from forward Kei Kamara. Rookie forward C.J. Sapong did the majority of the work, racing down the left sideline and picking out Kamara with a pinpoint cross near the penalty spot. Kamara took it off the volley and laced the ball into the back left corner of Vancouver keeper Jay Nolly's goal. It was to be an easy romp in Sporting's third game of the season.
The 73rd minute saw the Whitecaps get what was coming to them all night long when Atiba Harris pulled one back. It seemed only like a consolation goal at the time, but was just the beginning of a colossal meltdown.
Starting centerback Julio Cesar Santos left the game in the 82nd minute with an apparent leg injury, which saw Shavar Thomas get his first MLS action of the season. To counter that, Sporting head coach Peter Vermes substituted bruising midfielder Craig Rocastle on for Stojcev in the 90th minute. For the record, that's four defenders and three holding midfielders (including Stephane Auvray) on the field at the same time.
So, how exactly do you allow two goals in the span of of 1 minute, 4 seconds? To quote the Tootsie Roll owl, "the world may never know."
I'll try and explain, anyways. Sapong is a rookie in the truest sense of the word when it comes to tracking back and/or defending. He was the gulity party that kept Chivas USA defender Jimmy Conrad onside in the season opener when Conrad banged home a goal to make that game 2-1. That was strike one. Sapong was again 100 percent guilty of not tracking back (far enough) on Camilo's first goal. After Vancouver midfielder Terry Dunfield slipped a ball over the top of the KC midfield, it was Camilo all alone against Nielsen. From point blank range, Nielsen was helpless. Strike two on Sapong. One has to wonder, with Bunbury now healthy and forward Omar Bravo back next game after red card suspension, just how much more slack Vermes will cut the rookie if he keeps making costly errors.
Worrying moments, yes, but you just assume that after 90-plus minutes, that it took Vancouver that long to get a second, there was no way a third was coming. Perhaps that was Sporting leftback Roger Espinoza's mindset on the ultimate equalizer a minute later. He offered little to no upward effort on Nizar Khalfan's cross into the box for Camilo, who stood back to back with Espinoza near the back post. Camilo glanced the ball into the upper 90 and suddenly, out of nowhere, the crowd at Empire Field had once again come to roaring life.
Man of the Match: Despite the fact that he eventually let in three goals, Jimmy Nielsen did, I feel, more than everything within his humanly power to keep Sporting KC in this game. He'll undoubtedly be up for MLS Save of the Week on Monday morning, probably win it and that will be of little consolation. Often hung out to dry, Nielsen was rock solid at the back and prevented a possible 5-3, 6-3 scoreline. All hail The White Puma.