Defender Ike Opara headed home the latest game-winning goal in Sporting Kansas City history late Saturday night, capping a wild 2-1 win against Real Salt Lake in a clash of conference leaders at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Referee Matt Foerester initially indicated a minimum of five minutes stoppage time, but he extended that after a couple of time-wasting episodes in the added time.
Late in the sixth extra minute, Sporting KC won a corner kick, which Graham Zusi blistered toward the far post on the final meaningful play of the match.
Opara met it with his forehead, out-leaping players from both sides to deliver Sporting KC’s first lead and the victory.
“It was just a great ball by Zusi,” said Opara, who now has two goals this season and started in place of Matt Besler because his call-up for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. “We had a bunch of guys attacking it and I had to go up and get it. I was due for one.”
With the three points, Sporting KC, 10-5-5, extended its lead in the Eastern Conference to four points and pulled within one point in the Supporters’ Shield chase.
Obviously, Real Salt Lake, 11-6-4 and a point ahead of Sporting KC for the most points in the league, wasn’t quite so thrilled with the outcome.
“At the end of the game, on that last kick, everyone has got to be better with their marks and step up and say, ‘My guy is not going to score,’” defender Nat Borchers said.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis was critical of Foerester’s performance and the decision to have an inexperienced referee officiate the physical, top-of-the-table clash.
“I don’t want to belabor the point about the referee being poor,” Kreis said. “He is going to be poor. It’s his 14th match of his entire career. The referee in a sold out stadium, in a first-place-versus-second-place matchup — it’s the wrong game for him to make his 14th MLS game.”
Foerester whistled 26 fouls, including 15 against Sporting KC, and issued seven cautions.
Wingert, who crushed Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara with a shoulder-to-chin tackle meant to send a message in the first minute, picked up two yellow cards.
Three Sporting KC players — including Aurelien Collin, who will be suspended for next Saturday’s match due to yellow-card accumulation — also were booked.
“I thought that we kept our cool really well and I thought that paid off in the end, because obviously they got their red card and we didn’t,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “That was a good thing.”
Opara’s goal matched the latest game-winner in club history. Josh Wolff also scored in the 97th minute Sept. 22, 2010, capping a 4-3 win against Houston at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.