The top two teams in the Supporters' Shield standings clashed on Wednesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and for now, the best in the West stands alone above the best in the East.
Following Sporting Kansas City’s 2-0 victory over Atlanta United FC, SKC manager Peter Vermes was effusive with his praise for his opponents after the match, calling them “probably the best team in the league.”
“They are,” he said. “I probably make the comparison – years ago, you remember ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ with the [St. Louis] Rams? It’s kind of the same thing here too.”
He added: “I told Tata [Martino] this is a great environment, this club has done an unbelievable job, the stadium, the players that they have brought in, the way they built their team, fans obviously are connected with the way they play.”
At least one of SKC's players acknowledged the level of competition they faced, via Twitter, following the match:
Five Stripes manager Martino returned Vermes' compliments through a translator at his post-match press conference.
“Peter is very strong in this league,” he said, and that SKC, along with Columbus Crew SC, “have a style of play that makes them among the best teams.”
Atlanta United were forced to play man down for most of the match after Brad Guzan earned a red card with a foul on Sporting KC’s Khiry Shelton in the 34th minute.
“Unfortunately for Guz, he has to make that play,” Vermes said about the call. “If he doesn’t take out Khiry [Shelton], Khiry goes in and taps it in to an open net.”
Asked if it was the correct call, Guzan responded, “Um, yeah, it was a red card.”
“We are good in possession,” said Vermes. “That was a big objective of ours coming here, was to have the ball as much as we possibly could. Obviously, it became a lot easier with 10 men.”
With Guzan out of the match, Atlanta was forced to put in rookie goalkeeper Paul Christensen, who they’d only joined the first team five days before as an Extreme Hardship signing. Christensen performed well considering the circumstances, but was unable to stop Daniel Salloi from scoring the opening goal for Sporting KC.
Vermes said getting that opening goal was critically important for his team, especially playing away from home in an intimidating atmosphere.
“It was a very difficult game, and this is a great team, and we have to be really locked in and focused,” said Salloi. “This is a great win, probably the biggest one this season.”