SmorgasBorg: Sporting KC in MLS Cup 2013? Nothing less than an MLS Cinderella story
We've come to demand so much from Sporting Kansas City over recent years.
In fact, some observers might have this reaction to SKC advancing to their first MLS Cup title match since 2004 on Saturday night with a 2-1 win over Houston: "It's about time. What took them so long?"
But after a closer look, a more fair conclusion might be that the bar has been set unreasonably sky-high for Sporting KC all along. Frankly, SKC are overachieving.
And hosting MLS Cup on Dec. 7 may be their biggest achievement yet. And the club's architect, Peter Vermes, should get most of the credit as he gets set to wrap up a year that saw him inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame, named MLS All-Star head coach and handed a new, long-term contract.
Here's the big reason why:
"We're 16th on the list in money spent this year," Vermes told ExtraTime Radio back on Oct. 31. "According to the list last year we're 18 out of 19. And the year before I'd say we were 18 of 19. And somehow we continue to make the playoffs and continue to be first or second in our conference and it has something to do with the guys on our team …. We have a team that has found a way to get results."
The team's roster has Vermes's fingerprints all over it: He transformed Americans Matt Besler and Graham Zusi from good college players to US national team starters. He saw the potential in C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer, two forwards he selected with his higher SuperDraft picks.
The SKC manager also showed a shrewd eye on the overseas market, landing a Defender of the Year candidate in Aurelien Collin and a central midfield fulcrum in Oriol Rosell from FC Barcelona's reserve team.
Not to mention that Vermes has been able to line the club's coffers with extra allocation money for selling off Kei Kamara and clearing cap space after Roger Espinoza left for England. And he keeps on winning.
"It's a compete lack of respect for the current guys that are one point away from the Supporters' Shield," Vermes told ETR about criticism that his team was hurt by Kamara's departure. "That group of guys, if they're so bad, or not good enough to be on that list of teams that can find success, then it's amazing what they've done and they should be getting more of the credit than other teams."
And while many of us have given the Sporting KC boss grief in the past for his insistence with the 4-3-3 and his refusal to start Designated Players like Claudio Bieler and Omar Bravo in big spots, Vermes deserves his due for doing more with less compared to some of the big spenders around the league.
Yet somehow — similar to what's happened in recent years with Real Salt Lake in the West — the perception has been that Sporting KC have underachieved over the years despite making the playoffs three straight years, winning a US Open Cup and advancing to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Maybe it's their new state-of-the-art stadium and the crowds that pack it. Perhaps it was the rebrand. Or maybe it's the imposing playing style that Sporting KC have used to mow down their opponents at times. But all of a sudden in the last three years we've come to expect more out of Sporting — that anything less than MLS Cup is a failure.
Then again, perspective just doesn't exist in sports. In fact, we'll easily forget where SKC have come from in a few days when we slap them with the label of odds-on favorites to win MLS Cup at home on December 7.
Anything less than a trophy for Sporting would, of course, be a massive disappointment.