When the halftime whistle blew with Real Salt Lake carrying three cautions, Peter Vermes could already see a man advantage taking shape for his club.
And Sporting Kansas City's manager even had a candidate in mind for a second yellow: Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert, who was cautioned in the third minute for a hard foul on Sporting winger Kei Kamara.
“Kei was going to keep going against Wingert, and I thought it was going to be difficult for him to stop him,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Saturday night, after Ike Opara's goal late in stoppage time lifted Sporting to a 2-1 victory and closed them to within one point of the Supporters’ Shield lead. “I always say that when Kei's running, there's nobody in the league that can stop him.”
Vermes' prediction came true, even though it wasn't Kamara who drew the decisive foul.
The 11-v-10 edge came in the 66th minute, with Real up 1-0, when Wingert was sent off for his second yellow after pulling down Soony Saad in the open field. Saad buried the equalizer out of a scramble on the ensuing set piece, his third goal in two matches after going nearly two years without scoring.
“The great thing was that as soon as they went a man down, we got that set piece,” Vermes said. “We needed to capitalize on that set piece, and that was huge for us that we did it immediately. We put it to them.”
Then, in the seventh minute of stoppage time – originally announced for a minimum of five minutes – Opara buried the game-winner off Graham Zusi's corner kick.
“We really were persistent about trying to get that second goal,” Vermes said. “Even though we weren't on with every pass, we found a way – and in the end, we got another set-piece goal. Unbelievable goal. It was tremendous by the guys.”
The comeback wiped out what could have been a costly gaffe by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 56th minute, when he let a long free kick bounce out of his hands and it was headed home by Robbie Findley for a 1-0 Real lead.
“Look, sometimes it happens,” Vermes said. “Jimmy made a mistake, but he's bailed us out the whole time. I told the guys, and I told Jimmy, 'Look, don't beat yourself up. It still happened, but the great thing is that your teammates stepped it up.' That was awesome.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.