Just last week, Sporting Kansas City celebrated a stunning 97th-minute victory at Real Salt Lake.
On Saturday at Stade Saputo in a top-of-the-table Eastern Conference clash, Sporting KC found out how Real Salt Lake must have felt when the Montreal Impact netted the game’s only goal in the 96th minute for a 1-0 victory.
Rookie Blake Smith, who entered in the 80th minute, delivered the full three points with a rolling, left-footed blast from the left side of the box toward the right post.
He punctuated his second career MLS goal with a backflip as Montreal’s faithful erupted in cheers after drawing within a point of first-place Sporting KC.
“We’ve got to sense the moment late in the game on how to close it out,” coach Peter Vermes said. “We gave away a play we should have been able to deal with.”
The loss snapped Sporting KC’s three-game win streak and a six-match unbeaten streak, while Montreal, 10-5-5, ended its five-match winless skid.
Three minutes before netting the game-winner, Smith collected an attempted clearance by Ike Opara and rocketed a dipping, spinning left-footed drive that Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen punched over the crossbar to keep the game scoreless.
Of course, Nielsen’s luck soon would run out.
Off a restart near midfield, Montreal switched the ball to the right side, where Hassoun Camara wound up with the ball in space a few yards inside Sporting KC territory.
Camara played a diagonal ball back to the left through a wide-open center of the field, allowing Patrice Bernier to draw the defense with a dummy run to the middle.
He let the ball travel on to Marco Di Vaio, who calmly sent the ball further wide to an unmarked Smith for the game-winner.
“I don’t think we had enough numbers behind the ball,” Vermes said. “We weren’t in good starting positions. Other than that, I thought we played a good game, and unfortunately we leave here with nothing when we should have gotten out of here with at least a point.”
Sporting KC, 10-6-6, played without MLS Best XI/All-Star defensive centerbacks Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin.
Besler is on the U.S. men’s roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which wraps up today at Soldier Field with the U.S. battling Panama, while Collin served a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
However, Opara, who started at Besler’s left centerback spot, and Lawrence Olum, who replaced Collin, turned in solid, if not spectacular, performances.
“I thought they both were good and did a really good job,” Vermes said. “Tactically, they were very good and dealt with Di Vaio very well. He’s an excellent player, but I don’t think they gave him too much. A couple times, he was around the box, but outside of that I thought they did a great job containing him.”
The first half was rather uneventful.
Montreal delivered the only real chance in the opening 45 minutes when Justin Mapp sprung Sanna Nyassi free with a through ball into the left side of Sporting KC’s box.
Nyassi had a right-footed rip toward the near post, but Nielsen pawed the shot away with his right hand and Sporting KC’s patchwork defense cleared the ball from danger.
Sporting KC’s best chance to take the lead came in the 52nd minute when Designated Player Claudio Bieler cracked a high-bouncing shot toward the upper right corner, but Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins tipped the ball wide of the right post.