On Saturday in Vancouver, Sporting Kansas City did the near impossible. Despite leading the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 going into the last twenty minutes of the game, by the final whistle the scoreboard read 3-3. Vancouver took advantage of what looked like a tired Sporting side and never gave up, equalizing the game with three goals in the last twenty minutes- including two goals in stoppage time- to rip two extremely important points away from SKC.
There were, however, some real positives for SKC, prior to its meltdown.
2010 MLS All-Star keeper Jimmy Nielsen came up with huge save after huge save in the first half, shutting down a few Vancouver scoring chances that looked fairly dangerous. In my book, Jimmy was easily the man of the match, despite giving up the late goals, and despite Teal Bunbury’s two cool and professional finishes.
As the second half wore on and the KC defense became increasingly porous, an irate Nielsen was seen multiple times screaming at his back line to get it together. Fitness seemed to be a big issue, with multiple players cramping up. At one time, there were three KC players down at once, all trying to get their legs to work again. Perhaps the turf was somewhat to blame for the cramping, as it does affect a player’s fitness a bit differently than playing on a natural surface.
“The first 20 minutes I thought we were solid," said Manager Peter Vermes after the disappointing result. "Our goalkeeper was outstanding, and we had some great chances. There was a lot of rubber on that turf and we got fatigued. They kept coming – finished off with three great balls, and came back. I’m proud of our guys – to score three goals on the road is pretty solid. But even as fatigued as we were, we need to do a better job of holding the game.”
Sporting had taken control of the game through two top drawer finishes from rising star, Teal Bunbury. Despite being jeered by the Canadian crowd every time he touched the ball for his recent decision to play for the US in international competition instead of Canada (he was born in Ontario), Teal kept his composure and focused on the task at hand.
“It was disappointing – bottom line. We shouldn’t have let them back in the game. They’re a great team but we had the lead and we have to learn to stay composed. My job is to score goals and I got lots of opportunities. I thought our guys played well, but we need to stay focused and stay together as a team.”
Bunbury’s first goal came at the end of the first half as he was posting up around the top of the box. Teal received a ball to his feet and turned, creating just a glimpse of a chance. He struck the ball nicely with his right foot, curling the shot to the back post and into the side netting. He tallied again in the 58th minute off a little slip pass from Milos Stojchev. As Bunbury got in behind the Vancouver defense, he deftly feinted with his right foot, pulling the ball behind his leg to his left side, before burying a clincal left footed finish.
Bunbury has now scored three goals in about a game and a half of action this season. His strength and size give smaller defenders fits, and his touch on the ball is improving steadily.
Enjoy him while you can, Kansas City, because Teal Bunbury is going to draw major interest from top flight leagues in Europe by the time this season is done.
A few minutes after SKC went up 2-0 they struck again with a very nice goal that combined perfect touch passing and one-time finishing. As rookie CJ Sapong streaked up the left flank he received a through ball and attacked along the end line. With no angle himself, Sapong used the outside of his right boot to find Kei Kamara streaking into the box. Kamara executed the one-time strike perfectly, opting for placement over power, and put the goal into the far post side netting. This was truly a beautiful goal, from the set up to the finish.
Which is part of the reason why the final twenty minutes of the game were so very disappointing.
Vancouver first struck in the 73rd minute. OK, no worries, it’s still 3-1. But as the second half dwindled, KC players started dropping like flies and Vancouver was getting in behind the defense at will. The Canadian crowd urged on their side energetically, and were rewarded in the final minutes with two more goals. The first, a tap in from point blank, and the second, a perfect header into the top corner. SKC keeper Nielsen had no chance on either of them.
So what now? That’s two points Sporting left on the table, points that were in the bag. Simply put, there is no excuse for giving up three goals in the last twenty minutes of any game. None. We can talk about the turf, we can talk about fitness, or the great Vancouver crowd, or the officiating. But the truth is that there is no excuse.
There certainly were some bright spots like Teal Bunbury, Jimmy Nielsen, a nice ball from CJ Sapong and Milos Stojchev. And it is great to score three goals away from home. I love seeing that.
But Sporting has to stop giving up fluky (some might say soft?…) goals. They have to be stronger in the back.
After the disappointing last couple minutes of the game, captain Davy Arnaud tried to find the words to describe what had happened. But there really wasn’t much to say at that point. "I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a game like that before, honestly… Credit to Vancouver – they kept going. To get two after the 90th minute, hats off to them but at the same time we have to look at ourselves. It’s not good enough for us. At the end of the day, it was a point on the road, but we didn’t lock the game down.”