Sporting Kansas City started off 2020 as maybe the hottest team in MLS.
They beat Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Houston Dynamo by a combined score of 7-1. Behind impressive displays from newcomers Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda, they came into the MLS is Back Tournament as one of the teams to beat.
But it didn't start off so well after a 1-0 lead was blown against Minnesota United FC following a Tim Melia red card. Friday night's match against the Colorado Rapids started off with the Rapids on the front foot. But two red cards and a penalty kick changed proceedings and Sporting took all three points in a 3-2 win, despite the Rapids equalizing down two men.
The reason for this, said Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes, could be drawn back to the mental challenges the team has faced since it was announced on July 10 that one player received a pair of consecutive positive tests.
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"I'll be honest with you, that really hit the guys hard," Vermes said. "I remember we were supposed to train that morning, it got postponed to the evening if they came back all negative. They did and we got back out on the field.
"Honestly, our training was a disaster. It was like the guys didn't even know they were on a soccer field and it was all because they were wrapped up in the test and frankly this last 10 days have been really difficult because you're talking about now there's no camaraderie again. They're allowed to go to training. We come back from training — you go right to your room, take a shower. You go down to get your food, got to get in a to-go box. You go up to your room by yourself and you eat. That's been like every day for the last 10 days and it's been, I think from a mental perspective it's been very difficult."
Vermes confirmed that the team has now been cleared to go to dinner at a restaurant inside MLS headquarters on Saturday night following medical clearance.
Despite rarely controlling the run of play at 11-v-11 against the Rapids, there is solace in Sporting taking three points and setting themselves up to advance to the Knockout Stage with a positive result against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday (9 am ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN in Canada).
"It is emotional, it's emotional for so many reasons as I have outlined," Vermes said when asked about the swings in emotion his team faced against Colorado. "It's emotional because the guys have a lot of pride, they want to win. They work hard, they're committed so they want to win and what is the asterisk on this game is that they found a way to win this game today."