Momentum is everything in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are carrying plenty of it into 2021's version.
That puts Sporting Kansas City winger and captain Johnny Russell on watch before Saturday's Western Conference Round One game at Children's Mercy Park, with the Scotsman plenty aware of the danger of their upcoming opposition (5 pm ET | MLSsoccer.com & App, UniMas, TUDN).
SKC, the No. 3 seed, will look to squelch the surging confidence Vancouver, the No. 6 seed, have after their second-half run under charismatic interim manager Vanni Sartini. Whitecaps' midfielder Ryan Gauld and forward Brian White are also two of the most in-form attackers in MLS.
"In the time I've been here this is probably the strongest they've been," Russell said. "We beat them here at home, they beat us at [their] home, so it's 1-1 going to the last game. So we're hoping for more of the same that we got the first meeting this season, and that's entirely our focus and doing everything we can to win this game."
Ahead of the match, manager Peter Vermes said he's pleased with the energy among his group, responding from a late-season dip in form that saw Sporting KC drop three straight games and miss a Round One bye.
But the playoffs create a clean slate, and given the stakes of Saturday's matchup, Vermes doesn't need to inject much motivation.
"It's definitely not another game," Vermes said. "The 34-game season is over with, this is now the playoffs, this is what they worked to get into. This is a different situation now, it's a different challenge. I don't necessarily think I have to do this amazing job to try to get them motivated for the game because they've been incredibly self-motivated all season long.
"There's been times where maybe I've had to be the external motivation for them, which sometimes I've been successful and other times I haven't been successful. But I don't think this is one of those games where they need a ton of motivation from me, I think the game itself is motivation enough. They have a good spirit, a good mentality, just a very good vibe within the group. They understand what's ahead of them and they're prepared to do it."
Russell echoed that sentiment, noting it's vital to strike the right balance between their normal approach and meeting the gravity of the match.
"There's nothing that we have to change that would give us any added benefit, I don't think," said Russell, who had 15g/8a in the regular season. "We all know what's at stake here, we all know how important these games are, this is why we play the whole season, to get to this stage. We know how important that is. It's win or go home. And to me, that's not an option."