It took a 3-1 Decision Day win at home over Minnesota United FC – along with Houston Dynamo FC's 3-1 victory at the Portland Timbers – for SKC to snatch a Wild Card spot as the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed. They’ll now host No. 9-seed San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night in a single-elimination match (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
Needless to say, manager and sporting director Peter Vermes was noticeably pleased after Saturday’s result got SKC back in the postseason after missing out in 2022.
“I’m very, very proud of the guys, I’m very happy for them because they got rewarded for their commitment,” he told reporters after the match. “And for the naysayers, the doubters, no problem. Keep doing it ‘cause we’ll keep fighting and clawing and making our way.”
“He is a true captain in the sense that he is an incredible example for the rest of the guys,” Vermes said of the 33-year-old Scottish winger. “The one thing I always thought [of Russell] was he had the ‘it’ factor. And that is for the big games, because he’s got big balls he’s gonna step up. Simple as can be.”
Russell, who memorably had trouble explaining the club’s early-season woes back in April, struck a far more confident tone after finishing the season with a brace that took him to 8g/3a in 2023.
“To be in a situation we were in, I don’t think there’s many other teams in this league who could start a season like that and turn it around the way we have,” Russell said. “… Let’s be honest, we haven’t done anything yet, but to make the playoffs is huge.”
Now, Sporting have the next three days to prepare for San Jose, who cruised to a 3-0 win at PayPal Park when the two faced off in April. SKC returned the favor during their August rematch at Children's Mercy Park.
“A team that kicked our butt when we went to their place,” Vermes said. “… Tough opponent. But I think everybody we’re gonna face from here on out is gonna be that.”
Even so, Russell has complete faith in Sporting’s playoff chances – including a possible Round One Best-of-3 clash against top-seeded St. Louis CITY SC, should they get the job done mid-week.
“I think if you look at our form since those first 10 games, we are right there with the best teams in this league,” Russell said.