Even without the services of Designated Player Omar Bravo, Sporting Kansas City had little difficulty cruising to a 2-0 advantage in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Colorado Rapids.
Bravo, who is tied for the team lead with nine goals this season, spent Sunday night’s match firmly rooted to the bench, the result of tightness in his groin and a failed pregame fitness test that ruled him out of manager Peter Vermes’ plans.
“I didn’t want to risk it tonight,” Vermes said of starting the Mexican striker.
Bravo, who had started 10 consecutive games prior to spending Sporting’s playoff opener as an observer, missed six weeks of action in April and May after he suffered a sports hernia injury. Vermes said it simply wasn’t worth risking him, especially with C.J. Sapong ready to step in.
By resting him against the Rapids on Sunday, Vermes gave Bravo at least three more days to recuperate and work his way closer to 100 percent before the decisive second leg in Kansas City on Wednesday night (8 pm ET, FOX Soccer/TSN2).
“It was better to give him some him rest and get him ready for the next game as opposed to trying to put him out there, he hurts himself and then he’s out four to six weeks and he’s done for the rest of the year,” Vermes said.
That logic was largely based on the assumption that Bravo’s services would be needed at Livestrong Sporting Park in order for Kansas City to advance. As it turns out, that may not necessarily be the case.
With Sporting already holding a 2-0 aggregate lead and playing at home, Vermes could conceivably choose to keep his Designated Player in reserve once again, especially if his groin doesn’t improve considerably.
Though he would be available as a substitute should Kansas City need a spark, that scenario would give Bravo a full week to prepare himself for a potential appearance in the Eastern Conference Championship on Nov. 6.
That certainly isn’t the scenario that Bravo would prefer, but even he admitted not playing in Colorado was the prudent move.
"At 31 years of age and with my experience, it is difficult to be on the bench because one prepares all season for these games,” Bravo told FutbolMLS.com. “But I must have patience, and no one is above the team. That's the most important thing."
Eastern Conference goes through LSP
There are still 90 crucial minutes to play on Wednesday, but the road to the Eastern Conference Championship now runs directly through Kansas City.
Sporting still face a difficult task to eliminate the Rapids, but their victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park means Vermes’ side return to Livestrong Sporting Park with the opportunity to advance to MLS Cup without playing another road game.
Should they manage to hold or extend their lead on Wednesday against a depleted Colorado side, Kansas City will face the winner between Houston and Philadelphia at home on Sunday. Sporting are unbeaten in their last five games at LSP, where they’ve racked up a 9-2-6 mark so far this season.
“It’s definitely the result we were looking for, but Colorado is a great team,” Teal Bunbury said. “We might have the advantage of playing at home now, but they are going to have to bring it to us. We can’t come into it timid or scared. We’ve got to play our game, get the job done and move on from there.”