Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath has a well-documented history of playing up his team's underdog status ahead of big matches, but leading up to his team's Western Conference Semifinals matchup with Sporting Kansas City on Thursday on FOX (TV & streaming info), Heath's counterpart Peter Vermes beat him to the punch.
Speaking to reporters on his Monday video call, Vermes pegged the Loons as the favorite, citing punditry he's seen that has them topping his No. 1 seed SKC side.
"We've played them before, we've watched them play, both teams know each other pretty well," Vermes said. "I think they're actually in a good place, they're in good form. We know how dangerous they can be and how competitive they are. Look, we'll have to be at our best if we're able to achieve success against them. They're a very, very good team. That's why they're favored to win.
"That's what pundits are saying, so I'm going with what they say, that's what I hear, that's what I see," he added.
So, does Vermes really believe that? Or is the longtime SKC coach just playing some mind games? Asked on his Monday call about his thoughts on those comments, Heath said he thinks it's probably the latter.
"I get on really well with Peter so I'll have to ask him the question on what criteria he's going on," Heath said. "Is it the fact that they won the West at the top of the league that we're favorites now? We haven't won a game there, so it's a little bit mystifying that one. Maybe that's Peter playing some games. But, hey, whoever's favored I know it's going to be a really difficult game for us. I can't talk about how they would approach the game, only the way that we are. And we have to be better than we have been, otherwise I know sitting here what the outcome's going to be. But I fully expect us to be different as well."
As Heath pointed out, Minnesota are indeed headed to an opposing venue where they've never won, against the top seed in the conference. But even though he still believes that makes his side the underdog, the coach said he also feels as though he's going into the match with the best group of players, with the best mentality, that he's ever had since joining the club.
That's what Heath says he's going to lean on going into the match, regardless of who the pundits are picking.
"I think with the intimidating factor if you want to call it that of going to Kansas is two-fold for me: The opposition and the team that you're going with," Heath said. "I remember going down with virtually a reserve team on one occasion.
"Well, this isn't that. We've got an experienced group of honed professionals who know what's at stake and know what's coming. There's not one player on that field who hasn't been on this type of environment before. That gives me more encouragement more than where we are or where they are. The fact is, and it's a fact, you can dress it up as much as you want, this is the best group, the best team we've ever had. And it's playing with confidence. So, let's take that to the next stage."