KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Which question is Peter Vermes more tired of answering: The one about Sporting Kansas City's three-year run of frustration in the Western Conference Knockout Round, or the one about the club's struggles to find the net for most of the season?
Short answer: Both.
“It's all just for you guys,” Sporting's manager told reporters on Tuesday, as his club prepared to travel to Houston to face the Dynamo on Thursday (9:30 pm ET; UniMas in the US | TSN4, TVAS in Canada | MLS LIVE Free Stream). “It's not for us. At the end of the day, I think it depends on how you look at a specific team. So if a team wasn't in the playoffs last year, and now they got into the knockout stage, you'd be celebrating the fact that they got into the playoffs and you wouldn't even be talking about that.
“The fact that we've been in [the postseason] for seven years, that's overshadowed by the fact that we're consistently competitive.”
The same, Vermes said, goes for talk of Sporting's 40 goals in 34 regular season games. That’s the second-fewest of any of the 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs and fifth-lowest among all 22 MLS clubs.
“I could give you the evolution of where we started out the season and where we are now,” he said. “The number of chances we've created are really good – are incredible, comparatively speaking, even for the last few years. We've created chances now that in all those three years, we did not create. That, to me, is all steps in the right direction.”
Talk of Sporting's shortcomings also overlooks the club's success, Vermes said, with four trophies – including this year's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup – over the last six seasons.
“We just won the US Open Cup,” he said. “We did it playing a man down [in a 3-1 extra-time victory over FC Dallas in the quarterfinals] against a really, really good team – one of the teams that I have a lot of respect for. Even though they fell short this season, and that happens to teams, they're a really good team. So, I don't look at it as anything other than a question I have to answer.
“I just find it at times – honestly, I find it at times insulting and disrespectful, just because I think what happens is, everybody views it from a point of view that we've been there, so the expectation is so high all the time, so that if we don't win the MLS Cup, everybody says, 'Ah, you didn't do this.' I look at it as a lot of teams would like to be in the place that we are now.”
And where Sporting are right now, center back and captain Matt Besler said, is a solid position – as a tournament team looking for their second title of the year.
“I love that term,” Besler told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “Love that term. We're going to be using that the next couple of days. When you look at the playoffs, essentially it's a tournament. It's a tournament with not all the teams – you have to play 34 games to get into this tournament that we call the playoffs.
“The Open Cup is another tournament that we already played – so there's differences, but at the end of the day they're really the same, and we have better experience than anyone in the league in a tournament setting this year. We played in one, and we played in five games, and we won them all. So we have to take that confidence and that experience that we got from playing in those five tournament games, and take that into the game in Houston.”
Sporting aren't the only MLS club to win a domestic cup already this season, with Toronto FC already claiming a Supporters' Shield/Canadian Championship double, but the latter competition is entirely a two-legged affair, compared to the single-match Open Cup format.
And, as veteran right back Graham Zusi later noted, Sporting have already won once at Houston this season in a knockout environment – 2-0 victory in June in the fifth round of the Open Cup.
“Granted, both teams were a bit different in that game,” Zusi told reporters. “But still, going down there and getting a win should give us confidence to do it again.”