KANSAS CITY, Kan. – When Sporting KC were alerted to the availability of Chilean midfielder Felipe Gutierrez last winter, Peter Vermes & Co. couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Having already acquired what they felt was their No. 10 in Yohan Croizet, they added a Swiss army knife to the midfield who has turned out to be an even more effective playmaker in Vermes’ system.
After missing a large chunk of the season to a sports hernia injury, Gutierrez returned to match action in July, but took some time to acclimate back to the flow and reach the level that he had early in the year. Now he looks like a crucial element of Kansas City's hopes of vanquishing the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Championship, which kicks off on Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN2, TVAS).
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“Obviously we did miss him for a while when he was out,” winger Johnny Russell told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I think it’s shown since he’s come back in that we have a little bit extra in the attack. The guys that filled in were brilliant as well. But I think that obviously his goals and the assists as well, and his all-around game really helps us attack as a team.”
After SKC dropped their home opener to New York City FC on March 4, Gutierrez rattled off five goals over the next four games, then only played for 14 minutes until he returned from injury on July 14.
While it took a while for him to get back to his peak level, he got there during a strong run in September which saw him notch two goals and an assist, and earn a call-up to the Chilean national team. He assisted on three goals in the Western Conference Semifinal victory over Real Salt Lake and provided the pass to Diego Rubio by which Rubio won the crucial penalty kick in the second leg.
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Sporting captain Matt Besler hailed Gutierrez’s influence on the game in recent weeks, as he’s recaptured his electric form from earlier in the season.
“I think it was pretty obvious that it took some time for him to get back from an injury like it would anybody else,” Besler told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m happy that he’s playing well and making an impact, because that’s what we need him to do. That’s why we brought him in, to make the plays that he’s been making right now.
“To try things, to make the final pass or final movement, sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. But we need guys who take risks out there and he’s one of those guys.”