Sporting KC wins battle of division leaders

During the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time, Sporting Kansas City scratched out a stunning 2-1 win Saturday against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

Defender Ike Opara, who started in place of Matt Besler (international duty), powered a header past Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the 97th minute off a Graham Zusi corner kick and delivered the full three points for Sporting KC in a battle of conference leaders.

“It’s a big one,” coach Peter Vermes said. “Obviously, we’re chasing points, so it was great to finish the game the way we did. We didn’t play pretty. It wasn’t a great game for us. Our passing was off, and I don’t think that we played all that well, but at the end we got what we needed to get.”

Opara’s goal was tied for the latest game-winner in Sporting history. Josh Wolff also scored in the seventh minute of stoppage time in a 4-3 win against Houston on Sept. 22, 2010.

The turning point came in the 66th minute when Sporting KC (10-5-5) which trailed 1-0 at the time, gained a man advantage.

Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert, who set a chippy tone during the first minute when he crushed Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara with a shoulder to the chin that drew a yellow card, was sent off for a professional foul against Soony Saad.

One minute later, Sporting KC, which extended its lead in the Eastern Conference to four points and pulled within one of Real Salt Lake in the Supporters’ Shield race, drew even off the ensuing free kick when Saad notched his third goal in the last two games by finishing off a wild scrum.

“We got right back into the game quickly after the red card,” Vermes said. “That was big for us to get that goal, and I think it really put the pressure on them from that point on.”

Sporting KC initially went down a goal in the 56th minute. Defender Uri Rosell’s yellow goal for taking down Javier Morales set a free kick from 40 yards out, which Morales lofted toward the left post.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen came off his line and leaped to grab the lofted cross, but he overran the ball, which trickled off his fingertips to Robbie Findley for an off-balance header and a 1-0 lead.

Of course, the game, which featured 26 fouls and seven bookings by referee Matthew Foerster, turned around 10 minutes later, setting the stage for Opara’s dramatic game-winner.

“Ike finds a way to get on the end of them and he usually gets it on frame when he gets a chance,” Vermes said.