KANSAS CITY, Kan. – For routine-oriented manager Peter Vermes, Sunday's prematch presentation of Sporting Kansas City's 2013 MLS Cup rings had the potential to be a worrisome distraction. For his players, it was a chance to finally close the book on last season – and an incentive to come out with a solid effort when Sunday's match against the Columbus Crew kicked off.
“Obviously, it was cool to be given our rings and be congratulated over winning last year,” right back Chance Myers told MLSsoccer.com after Sporting grabbed a three-way share of the Eastern Conference lead with a 2-0 victory. “But you're going to look bad if you get your rings and then go out and lose and put up a bad performance out there. So I think that was in the back of everybody's minds.
"You can't go out there and accept something and then go out and play poorly. So we were fired up.”
Sporting showed it from the opening whistle, allaying Vermes' fears with early high pressure that paid off with an abundance of possession and yielded Jacob Peterson's loose-ball goal in the 10th minute for a 1-0 lead.
“I was struggling a little bit out there, because I wanted us to stay focused on the game,” said Vermes, who also won an MLS Cup as a player with the then-Wizards in 2000. “It could be easy for us to lose focus, but the guys did a good job of handling it, and that probably goes back to the point that we have a good nucleus of guys that have been here for a long time, and they understand what's important.
“At the end, it's a good ceremony and they should enjoy it because they've earned it,” he added. “But at the same time, we had business to take care of and they did a good job today.”
Sporting did that in the first half by challenging the Crew at one of their strengths – building out of the back. Columbus struggled to do that early on, rarely getting out of their own end for the first half-hour.
“They're a team that is extremely confident coming out of the back,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “We knew that even if we had a guy five yards from one of their players, they had no problem with giving that guy the ball. But I thought our initial pressure on that guy was great, and then the follow-up stuff around him – that's the stuff for the ball-winning guys. It's not the first guy's job to win the ball. It's the two guys behind him.
“That's the reason our high pressure worked today. It wasn't just one or two guys. It was 11 guys stepping up to cause them trouble.”