Michael Barrios – Tim Melia – FC Dallas – Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City manager and technical director Peter Vermes isn't one to pull punches with the media. He's straightforward with a dose of realism, as was the case ahead of Saturday’s home match (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) against FC Dallas.   

“I don’t think we have the luxury of trying to figure out how we can position ourselves in the playoffs,” Vermes said. “We need to make the playoffs first. That’s gotta be our number one objective and then we’ll take the steps of where we actually land. We have to keep fighting for points right now.

“Obviously, all the other teams aren’t going to lay down and give up points so we can get into the playoffs. We have to keep fighting for it, that’s our goal. We have a monumental task, but we’re trying to chip at it game by game.”

That monumental task, as Vermes called it, is emerging from 10th place in the Western Conference standings and being on 19 points at the season’s midway point. But SKC, nearly back at full health and recovering from a post-Concacaf Champions League malaise, have rattled off back-to-back wins over the Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Things are looking up for the four-time U.S. Open Cup champions, though Vermes is also preaching caution.

“I think, for sure, the guys are more confident,” Vermes said. “Some of that also stems from the fact that we have everyone back in training now except for two. That helps in so many ways. It helps with the standard of training, helps with competition for positions, it helps with giving guys a rest, whether it’s physical or mental. 

“It helps in many ways, but right now the guys understand that they’ve had two games to keep building from. But we also have a big opponent coming up and it’s not going to be an easy match by any means.”

That opponent is Dallas, which was hit hard by injuries and international call-ups (FIFA U-20 World Cup, Concacaf Gold Cup, Copa America) earlier this summer. That led to inconsistencies in results, as shown by failing to string together two straight wins since mid-April. 

First-year head coach Luchi Gonzalez recognized that the margins for error are incredibly small.

“I feel like we’re showing more consistency of the general ideas of possession and creation,” Gonzalez said. “The next step is that final touch, that final pass, that final finish, that final run offensively and that final block or final cover or that mark defensively – or a save. That’s that small margin that can separate good from great or good from poor.”

Dallas will look to record their second win at Children’s Mercy Park since 2011. Last season, they returned to the Lone Star State with a 3-2 win on July 28, 2018.

Can history repeat itself?

“That’s a difficult environment to play in, a challenging environment,” Gonzalez said of heading to SKC. “But we embrace that. I feel away (from home), we’ve been showing courage to get on the ball, to attack, to press, to try and dictate and control the game. Kansas City has a similar way; the details can be different, but they have a similar way and philosophy. That’s a great test for us."