Sporting KC take exception to "disrespectful" playoff prediction from Vancouver's Sartini

On Decision Day, basking in the joy of clinching an Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs place, Vancouver Whitecaps FC interim manager Vanni Sartini joyfully proclaimed they’d win their Western Conference Round One game.

“No, we’ll beat Sporting Kansas City – it’s different,” Sartini said, offering a bold statement upon learning their No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup.

That turned into bullet-board material, as SKC sporting director and manager Peter Vermes noted after their commanding 3-1 win Saturday over Vancouver at Children's Mercy Park.

“If there's two things that I know, one is the intensity of the playoffs are just a different animal,” Vermes said. “That's one and the other is that you have to be very careful about challenging the pride and the respect of another group of people, especially when you're competing against them.

“When you provide external motivation to a group of guys that are pretty proud and are really professional about what they do every day, and they're extremely humble and committed to what they do and have a lot of respect for the opponent, it changes things really quickly.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC | November 20, 2021

Suffice it to say that SKC took exception to Sartini’s comments, and forward Khiry Shelton expressed as much post-game. He brushed home a 17th-minute opener, starting as Mexican international Alan Pulido continues his recovery from late-season arthroscopic knee surgery.

In fact, Shelton said he watched the clip beforehand to get an additional push.

“I take it personal,” Shelton said. “That's disrespectful in all manners. I don't care. It was just disrespectful and we came out and we did our thing.”

Asked during Vancouver’s press conference if he regrets the remark, Sartini didn’t budge. No harm, no foul in his eyes.

“No, absolutely not because I was sure that we were coming here to play,” Sartini said. “So it's like if someone says, 'Hey you were wrong.' I say, 'Yeah you're right. I was wrong.' I'm not right every time but I would say it again because we were so excited and that excitement pushed us and makes something that was inconceivable. If you don't think that you're able to do something enormous, you don't even start in soccer. So that's okay.”

With one single-elimination test in the rearview, Sporting KC now turn to a Western Conference Semifinal on Nov. 28 against either No. 2 Seattle Sounders or No. 7 Real Salt Lake.

We'll see what motivating factors they turn to, though it's clear what pushed Shelton onwards as their chase toward MLS Cup on Dec. 11 continues.

"We're a confident team but we're humble," Shelton said. "We don't disrespect any opponent we play. We have the utmost respect for the opponents we play because we know this game can go either way. But it's just crazy that you have a coach that's joking around and saying stuff like that in an interview. It's beyond me."