COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes wrapped up his team’s brief workout on Saturday by lobbing snow balls at his staff before the team boarded the bus and left Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in the rearview mirror.
It’s a simple plan for the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Colorado Rapids: stay cool, have fun and get out of town with a smile.
And there’s every reason to think SKC can manage it. The team that rose from the bottom of the standings to the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season is brimming with confidence ahead of its matchup on Sunday (7:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
“The chemistry among the guys has just been so good lately, it’s turned into something very special,” striker Kei Kamara said. “There was a lot tension in the beginning, but guys have realized everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and we’ve been able to put it all together in the second half of the season.”
SKC’s herculean 10-game road swing to open the season is old news among the group now, and the better topic of discussion is how they’ve quietly become a dependable bunch on the road down the stretch. They’ve lost just once in their last seven away from home since that the 10-game gauntlet ended, and forged crucial draws at Houston and Philadelphia to vault to the top seed in the East.
So forgive them if they’re not exactly terrified of DSG Park, where the Rapids have posted three straight postseason shutouts dating back to last season.
“It’s definitely not intimidating,” said striker Teal Bunbury, who assisted on SKC’s goal during a 1-1 draw against the Rapids on May 28. “We have the confidence in each other and we know what we gotta do. It’s a big game and we gotta show up. We leave all the distractions – the fans, the altitude and being on the road – out of our minds.”
There is, however, still a vaunted Rapids defense to contend with, and just how SKC can break it down will be essential to taking a draw or more back to Livestrong Sporting Park for the second leg on Wednesday.
SKC were tied for the second-highest scoring team in the league this season, including two goals in two games against the Rapids this season.
“In these kinds of games and most games in MLS, every team presents the other team with some opportunities, some lapses,” Vermes said. “Making sure we’re clinical in finishing the opportunities, those will be the key moments in the game.”