Offer the chance to give up a 415-minute shutout streak, but pick up three road points against one of the most dangerous attacking sides in Major League Soccer – or anyone for that matter – and that’s a deal that Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes will take 100 percent of the time.
Vermes elected to go with what saw his team get off to a 6-0-0 start to the 2012 season, and the same starting eleven that’s been trotted out for six games running now – save one alteration for injury – showed it had more than enough to start a two-games-in-four-days road trip with yet another routine victory, and go eleven points top of the Eastern Conference very early in the 2012 season.
The one exclusion from Vermes’ preferred starting eleven was defensive midfielder Julio Cesar – out with a strained right hamstring. Paulo Nagamura made his first start for Sporting KC in his place, and the Brazilian spelled his countryman very well, according to Vermes.
“I thought Paulo did well. I thought he was good in possession, and I also thought he was in good spots where we wanted him to be tactically. He stepped up and did 83 minutes of work, which he hasn’t done in a long time. We’re going to need him again on Saturday (at Portland Timbers).”
It was all business as usual the first half in Vancouver on Wednesday night; Roger Espinoza chased the ball around the field like a cat its tail, play got well on the physical side of things for both teams, and Aurelien Collin celebrated provocatively with the corner flag following his 24th minute goal to open the night’s scoring – what’s become a pretty typical occurrence of late.
“I thought the first half was pretty good for us,” Vermes said, following his side’s 3-1 victory at BC Place. “Getting the goal was huge for us going into halftime. At halftime we talked about the fact they were going to come at us with everything in the second half.”
And then, the floodgates opened – only not in the same direction Vermes anticipated.
Instead, it was an own goal by Vancouver Whitecaps defender Martin Bonjour in the 51st minute that doubled the lead, made possible by the relentless pressure of CJ Sapong, to earn another of those ever-dangerous Matt Besler long throws outside the Whitecaps’ 18-yard box. Collin pressured Bonjour at the near post and nearly scored his second of the game, but ultimately it was the Argentine defender, not the French one, who knocked the ball past Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon for the second time on the night.
Kei Kamara put home a Chance Myers cross after 65 minutes, the goal that helped to ease the fear of a repeat 3-3 draw with Vancouver going from 3-0 to level at the end, as they did in Vancouver last year. Kamara had plenty the opportunity to have his own shot on goal early in the build-up, but opted for Myers wide to his right. Kamara crashed the near post and lifted the ultimate clincher over Cannon for Sporting’s third.
“The third goal was a big-time goal, in regards to Kei to get into the box after he played the ball out wide,” Vermes lauded Kamara’s fourth goal of the season.
Vancouver pulled that lone consolation goal back 80 minutes in when Sebastien Le Toux headed home from point blank range, ending Sporting’s shutout streak of four-plus games, begun when Ricardo Villar scored off a free kick on March 25. Sporting KC ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen felt much aggrieved, having himself judged Le Toux as offside on the play, but to allow the goal was truly the correct call.
Ultimately, though,Vermes’ earlier vindication of prophecy was to be in the cards. Vancouver surged numbers forward in waves the final dozen minutes of the game, with Nielsen coming up large once again, staving off seven shots in the same time frame.
“At the end, Jimmy was the difference. His saves at the end were big time, he was tremendous,” Vermes praised his starter who has conceded only two goals on the season (630 minutes). “That’s what, at the end of the day, really saved it. They were on us the last ten minutes of the game, really on us.”
Take away all the saves (Nielsen made six of them on the night), and Vermes still pays homage for all the other things Nielsen does within the team.
“When we moved [Davy Arnaud] on to Montreal this year, there was a big void in regards to our captain. Jimmy has taken on that position, and he’s been aces. He’s been big-time. It’s everything; in the locker room, on the field, in games or training, he’s been very, very good for us. His experience over the years is really paying off for us right now.”
Nielsen was nearly surplus parts for Sporting’s last three games, suffering only one shot on goal over a span of 335 minutes. No matter the rotation of the squad on Saturday night, Nielsen will surely be there, ready to put in a similar shift as usual, again.
No doubt, though, Vermes is already past these three points, hungry and on the prowl for the next ones.