After watching the Seattle Sounders get run off the field by Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes resolved that, if nothing else, his team wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
It was no surprise then that discipline was the theme of the evening for SKC as the visitors walked away on Sunday with a 2-0 victory against the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“If you watch the game last night between Real Salt Lake and Seattle, that wound up being just a shooting match,” Vermes said in a phone interview after the victory. “It was wide open. I did not want us to get into that. I didn’t want us to go willy-nilly and fly all over the place.”
For the most part, Kansas City reined in the high pressure that has made them so successful this season. Instead, they chose their moments successfully and got two second-half goals from the red-hot Teal Bunbury to build a commanding 2-0 aggregate lead heading into Wednesday’s decisive leg at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Despite being widely labeled the series favorites — especially with Gary Smith missing the services of Pablo Mastroeni, Jamie Smith and Conor Casey — Kansas City approached the first 45 minutes of Sunday night’s match pragmatically.
They kept the pace manageable, stayed compact and could only be satisfied when the game limped into halftime reeking of a 0-0 result.
“It wasn’t that we were trying to play conservative,” Vermes said. “There was just no reason for us to open up the game.”
And with just 45 minutes to earn some sort of cushion at home, Smith took the more aggressive stance that Kansas City was anticipating, opening up the space they needed to take advantage of their speed and explosiveness in transition. They grabbed the lead in the 49th minute when Júlio César intercepted an errant pass and played a perfectly weighted through ball to Bunbury.
“That was a world-class finish from Teal,” Vermes said. “The first touch got him where he wanted to be, and I’ve seen him do the rest a million times in practice. It was a tremendous finish. He’s been on fire.”
Bunbury didn’t stop there either, converting a penalty in the 59th to spot Sporting the two-goal advantage they’ll bring back to Livestrong Sporting Park when he sent Pickens the wrong way after Tyrone Marshall brought him down in the box.
The brace, in his first postseason appearance no less, was Bunbury’s fourth goal in Kansas City’s last four games and gave him eight goals in his last 12 appearances. Still, even he acknowledged that the result and sound tactics ruled the day.
“Like I always say, it’s my job to score goals,” Bunbury said. “My teammates put me in great position to do that tonight. It was a great win for us, but we’re not going to get complacent. We know we have a big game on Wednesday. We know Colorado is going to be fired up.”
What the Rapids won’t have, however, is the kind of stranglehold that RSL will bring to Seattle.
Instead, it’s Kansas City who are in control, sitting in perfect position to advance by virtue of a professional performance and a few moments of brilliance from Bunbury.
“I’m happy that we got the result,” Vermes said, “but right now I’m over it. We’re back at 0-0. We’re going home, and we have to get a result. We can’t leave anything up to chance.”