A trip to Providence Park late Saturday furnished Sporting Kansas City’s third matchup with the Portland Timbers this season, and for the first 262 minutes of those games, two clubs in the Western Conference playoff race failed to produce a goal.
In a 10.4-second, otherworldly sequence, Krisztian Nemeth changed that.
Nemeth struck in the 83rd minute after knifing his way through the Portland defense, lifting Sporting KC to a 1-0 victory Saturday night in Portland, Ore.
Never miss a local story.
After collecting the ball near midfield, Nemeth dribbled through three Portland defenders — one of them twice — before moving into the box and serving a right-footed shot into the far corner, past a diving Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey.
“I mean this with all due respect — he picked those guys apart,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “The finish was fantastic.”
The highlight-reel goal led to a key victory. With only three matches remaining in the regular season, Sporting KC firmed up its playoff positioning, surging into third place in the Western Conference. The top two teams in the West will be awarded byes in the conference semifinals, while the next four will play first-round matchups.
A victory Saturday capped a remarkable seven days for Sporting KC, during which the club tied Seattle with a reserve-heavy lineup, won the U.S. Open Cup championship and then claimed a road victory in Portland.
“The thing you need to put the exclamation point on is the number of players who made a contribution this week,” Vermes said.
On Saturday, Nemeth contributed the offense.
A steady back line — and keeper Tim Melia — took care of the rest. When the clubs met inside Providence Park on Sept. 9, Melia produced one of his best career games, using a career-high seven saves for a shutout.
Melia made another few close-range saves Saturday to help a tired Sporting KC club earn its third shutout against Portland this season.
Vermes was quick to credit captain Matt Besler for leading the latest one.
“Matt played injured a little bit, but he fought through that game and was big for us,” Vermes said. “We needed him on the field tonight.”
Three days after Sporting KC won the Open Cup championship in a match that lasted 120 minutes, it had the appearance of a team playing on tired legs. The Sporting KC lineup Saturday indicated a bulk of the starting group needed a rest.
Sporting KC started three rookie draft picks — Amadou Dia, Saad Abdul-Salaam and Connor Hallisey — for the first time since 2007. It was without midfielders Paulo Nagamura (yellow card accumulation) and Soni Mustivar (hip pointer).
Zusi started the second half, and Nemeth subbed into the match in the 73rd minute.
Just in time.
“Probably the goal of the year,” Vermes said.
The club has only three games remaining in the regular season. After a bye week, Sporting KC returns to action with a trip to San Jose on Oct. 16. It concludes with home games against Colorado on Oct. 21 and the LA Galaxy on Oct. 25.
Sporting Kansas City 1
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Kevin Ellis (Erik Palmer-Brown, 80th), Saad Abdul-Salaam, Amadou Dia, Matt Besler, Connor Hallisey (Graham Zusi, 46th), Jordi Quintilla, Bernardo Anor, Mikey Lopez, Benny Feilhaber, Jacob Peterson (Krisztian Nemeth, 73rd).
PORTLAND: Adam Kwarasey, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Alvas Powell, Jack Jewsbury (Dairon Asprilla, 80th), Rodney Wallace (Lucas Melano, 62nd), Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Jorge Villafana (Maximiliano Urruti, 83rd), Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi.
Kansas City: 1, Nemeth 10 (Zusi), 83rd minute. Portland: None.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: Feilhaber (unsporting behavior), 74th; Melia (time wasting), 88th.
Portland: Adi (unsporting behavior), 70th; Valeri (unsporting behavior), 80th.
Kansas City: c
Referee: Ismail Elfath.
Assistant referee: Eric Boria.
Assistant referee: Adam Garner.
4th official: Jallow Baboucarr.
Announced attendance: 21,144.