On the road? Check. Down a man? Check. Coming home with three points?
Sporting Kansas City's club-record away winning streak is now at five matches after Saturday night's 2-1 comeback victory over Toronto FC – and in three of those matches, including this one, Sporting have finished down a man.
“We're actually going to start the next game down a man,” manager Peter Vermes joked in a conference call after the win, which extended Sporting's unbeaten streak to seven matches and lifted them four points clear of second-place D.C. United in the Eastern Conference standings. “We're just going to play a 4-4-1. That's what we're going to do, going forward.”
The situation looked anything but humorous in the 75th minute, though, when the score was tied at 1 and Matt Besler was sent off – for the first time in his career – after getting his second yellow for a foul on TFC speedster Dominic Oduro. But Sporting regrouped, slotted defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum back into central defense, and got several clutch saves from Andy Gruenebaum down the stretch to keep the Reds from capitalizing on the man advantage.
“It's the mentality,” Vermes said. “You understand what you have to do. There's things that you work on in training. Not only do the guys understand it tactically, but they also have the right mentality. They know how to fight and grind out the points at the end, but more importantly to pick and choose their opportunities and their chances.”
That's another part of Sporting's mentality: not being satisfied with splitting points, even when reduced to 10 men. So they kept looking for ways to find a winner, and second-half sub Jacob Peterson delivered it in the 80th minute when he buried a backheel assist from Dom Dwyer through a crowd of defenders.
“These are huge, huge points on the road,” Vermes said, “especially given the fact that Toronto has games in hand. We've always said in the past, when we've been in that position, that those games don't mean anything unless you get the points. So these were huge, huge points for us tonight in a game like this – with the kind of firepower they brought in this year, the kind of investments they made, it's huge on our part.”
Sporting will have to be resilient and resourceful again on Friday, when they host the Philadelphia Union. Besler will be serving a one-match suspension, and left back Seth Sinovic is questionable after leaving with a right groin strain in the 55th minute on Saturday.
Then again, that's nothing new for a club that has been dealing with injuries and international absences – especially in the back line – all year long.
“I've never been a part of a team like that, as a player or as a coach,” Vermes said. “So it's good to see. It really is. The mentality of this group is galvanized.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.