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Surprise hero Lawrence Olum lifts Sporting Kansas City into Supporters' Shield lead

Lawrence Olum couldn't have picked a better time to score his first MLS goal – and it played out the way he always imagined it would.

“I always pictured it on a layoff, just like today, and I bury it home,” Olum told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Saturday, after his stoppage-time goal kept Sporting Kansas City's Supporters’ Shield hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia. “Well, usually it's like that.”

The former minor-league journeyman, who has found a home with Sporting for the past three seasons, also recorded his first career assist early in the second half when he flicked on Matt Besler's long throw-in to set up Graham Zusi's header for a 1-0 lead.

But it was the defensive midfielder's finish in the clutch, with Kansas City needing a victory in the regular-season finale to go up two points on New York in the Shield standings, that fans of both sides will remember most.

“He was at the right place at the right time,” said manager Peter Vermes, whose club will take their first Shield since 2000 if the Red Bulls draw or lose to Chicago on Sunday. “Scoring goals is not usually his thing, but when you understand the game, you put yourself there at the right moment. He was there, and it was an awesome, awesome opportunity for him to finish off. He actually hit it left-footed, which is not his dominant foot, so it was a perfect goal.”

With the Union needing a victory just to keep their playoff hopes alive, Olum expected that someone would be able to find room near the goal.

He was right. After Teal Bunbury collected Jacob Peterson's deflected cross and slid it back across the front of goal, Olum was all alone for the calm finish.

“Right before that, we had had two good chances going forward,” Olum said. “I saw that the defender wasn't with me, and I just kept on going. Teal did a good job to look up and find me.”

The timing of Olum's goal, on the heels of Jack McInerney's 88th-minute equalizer for Philadelphia, underscored the message Vermes gave his team before Saturday's match.

“This was an opportunity today, and we weren't going to let it pass,” Vermes said. “I told them, 'Don't die until the bitter end.' The other team was tired at the end of the game. They were finished. That second goal was big-time.”

It came in the 29-year-old Olum's 42nd MLS match, and on only his second career shot on goal.

“I was like, 'Finally, I scored,'” he said. “I've just been waiting for a moment like that, to do what I have to do and put it in the goal.”

Now, he has to wait another day to find out if his goal was a Shield-winner as well as a game-winner.

“I'm definitely watching,” he said. “I might have a little get-together with my friends, maybe a few of my teammates so we can scream at the TV together. I'm sure it's going to be intense. I'll try to enjoy the goal, because it's been a long time coming, but tomorrow we'll have our fingers crossed for sure.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.