KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Stitch together the slow-motion montage. Cue the epic music. Bring back the late Don LaFontaine to intone: “And this time … it's personal.”
To be sure, Sporting Kansas City haven't forgotten their 2-0 home loss to Houston in last year's MLS Eastern Conference final.
“Nobody forgot about last year,” right back Chance Myers said on Friday. “I know the fans didn't, and I know we didn't. So it fuels our fire, I guess.”
They've drawn on that bitter defeat for motivation all through the 2012 campaign, and turned that focus into a U.S. Open Cup title and a second straight finish atop the East standings.
“After the Houston game last year, that was one of the worst feelings I've ever had in my soccer career,” goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com. “It was not our best performance. I thought we could have put in a little bit more, but they were smarter than us that day.”
“We feel like we owe them something,” center forward C.J. Sapong said. “They kicked us out of the playoffs last year, so I think it's shaping up to be a good story for us if we can knock them out.”
So, in short, after last year’s loss, Sporting would love to end Houston's season by winning the clubs’ home-and-home semifinal, which starts Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium (3:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
But hold on. Emotion and revenge is not what this Sporting side is all about this year. Level-headedness is what manager Peter Vermes has drilled into his players.
“When you get to this part of the season and you get into the playoffs, it's the moments when you can take the emotion out of it and you can actually use the consistency that you had throughout the season, and you can use your instincts to do what needs to be done,” Vermes said Friday, during the team's weekly news conference. “Then you can have the calmness in the game, to use your intelligence to pick those moments when you've got to do X, Y or Z.
"It's the moments when you have too much emotion, you don't even see X, Y and Z because you're too caught up in it. I think our guys are much too battle-tested for that kind of stuff.”
No one in the side exemplifies that calm composure more than center back Matt Besler said.
“They're just another team we're trying to get past,” he said. “I wish I could say, 'Oh, I've been thinking about Houston for 11 months now.' We haven't forgotten it, but we're not writing it up on the chalkboard saying, 'Houston: This is it for us.' It'd be great to beat Houston, not because it's Houston but because it's the first round of the playoffs. We don't care who we beat. We just want to win.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.
2011 Eastern Conference Final highlights