Sporting looking to end 10-game trip on high note

Ryan Smith

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Given the opportunity to label this weekend’s match in Toronto as a tailor-made opportunity to take the three points that Sporting Kansas City desperately need, Peter Vermes declined to take the bait.

Sure, Toronto FC were run off BMO Field 6-2 by Philadelphia last Saturday in the club’s worst-ever defensive performance. Yes, the Reds looked woefully unorganized at times and vulnerable to crippling individual blunders.

But, more than most, Vermes understands growing pains and the frustration that inevitably comes with rebuilding a team from the very core.

“Everybody is talking about their game this past week,” he said. “I don’t put any credibility behind the fact that they got beat 6-2 and now all of a sudden they’re terrible. They are a good team. They had a blip on the screen.”

Truth be told, Kansas City still have a long way to go before they can start passing judgment on another team’s mishaps.

Sporting (1-6-2) will meet the Reds on Saturday evening (7 pm ET, MatchDay Live) to conclude a 10-game road trip that has left them last in the Eastern Conference, winless in the league since March 19 and scrambling to get something out of their final away game before the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on June 9.

Kansas City only just broke a five-game losing streak last weekend in Colorado, drawing 1-1 to earn their first point since early April. Should they manage to get a victory or even a draw against Toronto (2-5-6), much of their early struggles could be forgiven given the generally woeful road records owned by the rest of the league.

If they can’t manage even a point, Sporting will simply heap even more pressure onto themselves to be close to flawless at home, where all 17 fixtures still await.

“Right now, it's probably not so much about the performance as it is the result,” goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said. “We need a win now.”

Toronto are sure to scratch and claw to prevent such a thing from happening after turning in such a stinker in front of a fan base increasingly frustrated by the club’s inability to build a team capable of consistently competing in MLS.

And though both sides urgently need a result, each will have to do so without a full complement of players as international absences and injuries have sucked valuable resources from each squad.

Kansas City will be without Roger Espinoza, Stéphane Auvray and Shavar Thomas because of the upcoming Gold Cup while Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone) and Seth Sinovic (hamstring strain) will also be unavailable. Toronto have similar concerns with Julian de Guzman and Dicoy Williams away with their respective national teams and defender Adrian Cann sidelined indefinitely with a torn ACL.

The Reds did catch a bit of a break when Ecuador released rookie attacker Joao Plata from camp, meaning he’ll be available for Saturday’s game.

Regardless, those absences won’t prevent either manager from fielding a side determined to make life difficult for the other, a testament to each side’s respective position in the league as well as the importance of the match for both squads.

For his part, Ryan Smith said he saw two ways Saturday’s match could go.

“They could come out fighting and snapping at us just like we’ll do,” he said, “or they could come out with not so much confidence and we can capitalize on that. Hopefully it will be the latter. I believe every team in this league is beatable on a given day.”

And TFC are certainly beatable. But then again, so are Kansas City.

Vermes said he had no doubt Aron Winter would have his team motivated and ready to play, something that shouldn’t be too difficult given the shame in their last performance.

“Their guys are going to be hungry for it,” Vermes said. “Nobody likes to get embarrassed like that, especially at home.”