KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Teal Bunbury knew he would be coming off the bench on his own bobblehead night, but he planned ahead anyway.
It’s a good thing he did.
Bunbury came on as a late substitute and bundled in an 89th-minute goal Saturday night against the New England Revolution at Livestrong Sporting Park to salvage a 1-1 draw and extend Sporting Kansas City’s unbeaten streak to 13 games.
And as soon as the ball nestled in the side netting, Bunbury made a beeline for the corner flag where he did his best bobblehead impression, bouncing his head back and forth with a smile plastered on his face as his jubilant teammates mobbed him.
“[It was] bobblehead night,” Bunbury explained. “I was trying to make it fun and entertaining. It was something I planned out. Fortunately for me, I was able to get the goal and celebrate.”
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For most of 90 minutes, it didn’t look like Sporting would have the opportunity to celebrate much of anything. New England’s Rajko Lekic had given the visitors a first half lead, and Steve Nicol’s side defended admirably to fend off wave after wave of Kansas City attacks.
But on came Bunbury, mired in a four-month goal drought, to score a poacher’s goal, his fourth of the year, and keep Sporting unbeaten since May 21. Their 13-game streak is the second longest in the league this season and the longest in franchise history.
And although the build up wasn’t a thing of beauty by any means — a loose ball that fell to Bunbury after Omar Bravo carried it into the penalty area — the young striker displayed the kind of predatory instincts that he has been missing for much of this season.
“I don’t know if Omar got a touch to it or it hit off a defender,” Bunbury said. “It was just bobbling there. I was the first one to react, and I just wanted to keep it on frame and keep it low.”
By most measures, it was the least of what Kansas City deserved after pinning the Revs in their own half of the pitch during the second half, outshooting their opponents 17 to two and enjoying a man advantage after A.J. Soares was sent off for a professional challenge on a breakaway in the 82nd minute.
Unfortunately, a subpar first half torpedoed Sporting’s second half heroics for the third time in four games. Kansas City has now scored in the 93rd, 90th and 89th minute in the last month to walk away with last-gasp 1-1 draws.
“It was a tale of two halves,” manager Peter Vermes said. “I thought the first half we didn’t play very well. We were very tentative defensively. What I would say though is that in the second half we dominated in every category. The character for us to get back in the game is fantastic.”
He was less thrilled to walk away with just a point and drop the season series to the Revs — New England came out 3-2 victors against Sporting at Gillette Stadium on April 23 — but pointed out that Kansas City are still steadily moving up the table even if the results haven’t always been what they’ve preferred.
“It would be nice [to get three points tonight],” he said. “But we continue to climb the ladder.”
And if Bunbury can use this moment to shake off his malaise, Sporting will have yet another horse to saddle up and ride in that effort.
He said he’s kept the faith in his abilities over the past few months with support from his friends, family and teammates and had a feeling he might get the equalizer as he watched his teammates assault Matt Reis’ goal before he came on and played hero.
“We were pressuring them and getting chances,” Bunbury said. “It was just a matter of time. I was lucky to get a scrappy goal. It feels good. I haven’t scored in awhile.”