The second-half ejection of Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler forced coach Peter Vermes to look to his bench Saturday in Toronto to replenish a battered defensive line.
The coach’s response instead provided the offense.
Jacob Peterson made the most of his brief appearance, scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory at BMO Field.
Peterson’s 80th-minute strike against his former team extended Sporting Kansas City’s franchise-record road winning streak to five matches. The club has not lost away from Sporting Park since May 31, and it extended its lead in the Eastern Conference to four points over D.C. United.
“These are huge, huge points on the road. Huge points,” Vermes said. “To be able to do that in a game like this, with the firepower that they’ve brought in this year and the adjustments they’ve made, it’s huge on our part.”
This one indeed came against tall odds.
Besler was sent off in the 75th minute after receiving his second yellow card of the match. Sporting KC was already playing without left fullback Seth Sinovic, who left early in the second half with a groin strain.
For the third time in the five-match road winning streak, Sporting KC finished off its victory down a man.
“We’re actually going to start the next game down a man,” Vermes deadpanned. “We’re just going to play a 4-4-1 (formation). That’s what we’re going to do going forward.”
The solution Saturday was to call on the defensive-minded Peterson to replace Mikey Lopez. It was a well-timed substitute. Peterson finished off a pass from the heel of Dom Dwyer for his second goal of the season.
Graham Zusi put Sporting KC on the board earlier in the half.
“We had an uphill battle, for sure,” Peterson said. “If I can come in and work hard for the team and make something happen, then that’s my role. Everyone on the team has that mentality. That’s why we’ve been successful.”
Sporting KC stretched its unbeaten streak in league matches to seven.
The start was shaky before Zusi pulled some momentum back with a goal three minutes after halftime. Following a lengthy scramble in the penalty area, Zusi settled down the ball just inside the box and curled a shot toward the upper corner for his second goal of the season.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum made the two second-half goals stand. Gruenebaum saved three shots to improve to 4-0 since taking over for the injured Eric Kronberg.
“He was excellent in the goal — excellent,” Vermes said. “He had a great game tonight. He made some saves that were extremely important for us.”
His top nemesis Saturday was Dominic Oduro. Toronto’s attacking midfielder set the pace of play — especially in the opening half.
Jackson Goncalves scored in the 16th minute to supply Toronto FC with an early advantage, but Oduro did the heavy lifting on the goal. He flicked a touch pass through the Sporting KC defense to put Goncalves one-on-one with Gruenebaum.
Seven minutes later, Oduro set up Nick Hagglund with an equally tasty opportunity, but Hagglund sent his shot off the post. Oduro rifled his own shot off the post later in the opening half.
Sinovic, charged with defending Oduro for much of the night, tweaked his groin while sprinting back on defense in the second half. The injury could make Sporting KC thin on the back line when it returns to action Friday. The club will play host to Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Friday at Sporting Park.
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