The ball spinning beside him, Jimmy Nielsen sank down into the corner of his own net and looked dejectedly into the distance.
Meanwhile, Brazilian striker Camilo streaked toward the Whitecaps’ bench, fingers pointing to the sky, celebrating the third-and-final goal of an epic comeback that left the 20,518 fans at Empire field buzzing and Sporting Kansas City with a single point and nothing but disappointment.
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By all accounts, a 3-3 tie was not how it was supposed to end. Kansas City led 3-0 in the second half, but that advantage had crumbled in 20 minutes, leaving Peter Vermes’ squad to ponder missed opportunities.
“If you score three goals home or away,” Vermes said, “you have to be able to close out the game. It’s something that we have to be better with. We have to manage the game a little bit better.”
Through 65 minutes, it looked as though Sporting would walk away with all three points without much resistance. The visitors had a commanding 3-0 lead through two goals by Teal Bunbury and a third from Kei Kamara, and they were pushing for more.
But then the cramps started setting in. Davy Arnaud and Julio Cesar were forced off the field, and Vancouver grabbed the game squarely by the scruff of the neck.
“It was great commitment from us for 60 or 70 minutes of the game,” Bunbury said. “Then we just kind of melted down toward the end. All of us, as a team, have to have more pride and stay together as a unit.”
But even though Kansas City were seemingly in full control, they had leaned heavily on Nielsen to keep the Whitecaps off the board from the very start.
The White Puma made a handful of goal-saving stops in the first half, stymieing the Vancouver attack and giving his teammates the opportunity to take control when the chances presented themselves at the other end of the field.
“Jimmy was just absolutely on fire,” Vermes said. “He was outstanding. He kept us in the game.”
But Nielsen couldn’t play savior forever, and Vancouver simply started finishing those chances in the final 20 minutes.
The consistently dangerous Atiba Harris turned in the first with his thigh and Camilo followed with two well-worked goals in stoppage time to complete a comeback that will go down in Whitecaps lore.
“Credit to them, they were pressing,” Vermes said. “They were flying with the ball. We had to make a couple of changes, and I think we lost some continuity in the way we were playing with Davy (Arnaud) and Julio (Cesar) coming out.”
[inline_node:332734]All in all, the collapse soured a day that had come together so perfectly at one point.
After hearing it from a Canadian crowd still stung by his recent commitment to the United States national team, Bunbury delivered two stunning goals and Kamara had banged in his first of the season, all three classy finishes.
“I was expecting them to boo me and say whatever,” Bunbury said. “I try to do my thing wherever I’m playing. Scoring those goals would have felt the same if I was scoring them anywhere else.”
Unfortunately, like last week against Chicago, those goals came with a grain of salt.
Instead of three points — and six from three road games — Kansas City were forced to be content with a draw, a result that was unimaginable as late as the final few minutes of stoppage time.
“Everyone is disappointed,” Vermes said, “and I am as well. We know we could have got three, but it’s good to at least get away with something.”