Despite a late goal Saturday to keep alive his team's franchise-record unbeaten streak, Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes wasn't happy with a shoddy first-half performance.
Vermes gushed about Sporting KC's second-half performance, but emphasized that he wanted to see that kind of effort and intensity for a full 90 minutes.
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Facing Western Conference power Real Salt Lake in the third game of a nine-game home stand Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park, Sporting KC delivered a masterpiece, extending its unbeaten streak to 14 consecutive games with a 2-0 victory.
It took Sporting KC, 7-6-9, which inched above .500 for the first time since a 3-2 season-opening win March 19 at Chivas USA, barely 20 seconds to threaten the Real Salt Lake goal.
But the dam didn't break until the 29th minute when Roger Espinoza singlehandedly picked apart one of the league's top defenses.
Espinoza picked midfielder Collen Warner clean near the left edge of Real Salt Lake's penalty box then split Warner and defender Tony Beltran before zipping a shot past goalkeeper Nick Rimando with a rocket through a sliver of daylight at the near post.
It was Espinoza's first goal since July 17, 2008, at Columbus during his rookie season with Sporting KC.
Five minutes later, forward Teal Bunbury, whose 89th-minute goal Saturday snapped a 16-game scoring drought, bumped the lead to 2-0 with his fifth goal of the season.
That opportunity started with a long throw-in by defender Matt Besler that found Kei Kamara in the middle of the box.
Kamara headed the ball down, forcing Rimando to make a sprawling save, but the rebound went straight to Bunbury, who started for the first time in seven games.
Bunbury lined up a blast for Rimando's noggin that ricocheted off the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper and into the side netting for a 2-0 lead.
Rimando entered play with nine shutouts, which was second in the MLS, and a 0.78 goals-against average.
Espinoza was sent off for a reckless tackle against Kyle Beckerman in the 56th minute after his scissor takedown from behind.
With the victory, Sporting KC vaulted into a tie for third place with the New York Red Bulls, while Real Salt Lake suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since April 2010.
Sporting KC's Jimmy Nielsen wasn't tested until the final 20 minutes. His biggest challenge came on Beckerman's low roller through traffic in the 78th minute, which Nielsen dove to punch clear to the delight of an announced crowd to 18,467.
It was the 34-year-old Danish goalkeeper's third shutout and first since June 22 at Philadelphia, a scoreless draw.