KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A common storyline that emerges with the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs is usually the past matchups between teams, especially when moments in those matches becomes MLS folklore.
Perhaps no moment in recent history has reached legendary status as the “double-post game,” in the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs Knockout Round. A back and forth affair between Sporting KC and the Portland Timbers ended up going to a penalty shootout, after a 2-2 draw through 120 minutes. When Sporting defender Saad Abdul-Salaam stepped up to take his penalty that would have sealed victory for Sporting KC, it hit both posts and managed to stay out. Portland eventually won the shootout and went on to win their first MLS Cup in club history.
Sporting defender Ike Opara remembered being injured for the match and having to watch it on television.
“I remember being at home feeling the most surreal feeling,” Opara said. “Just the last 10 minutes, the extra time, and penalty kicks, I couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like being at that stadium. I was in shock.”
Now, with Sporting and the Timbers matched up in the Western Conference Championship three years later, beginning with Sunday's Leg 1 at Providence Park (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN2, TVAS), the storyline naturally comes up again.
While the penalty shootout and double post have been celebrated in Portland, especially with the Timbers winning MLS Cup that year, the feeling is not mutual in Kansas City.
Sporting have been known to do their best to educate the newcomers on rivalries, traditions, the structure of the league and much more that surrounds their existence within MLS. But when asked, winger Johnny Russell had no idea about the previous postseason history between the two sides.
“Nobody has actually said anything,” Russell told MLSsoccer.com
“I don’t know why we would,” Sporting captain Matt Besler said. “It’s a completely different season and a completely different team. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Defeating Portland in this round would give Sporting KC a chance to further exorcise their playoff demons. Already this season, they have avoided the Knockout Round, hosted a playoff game for the first time in five years, and knocked out a big rival in Real Salt Lake.
Even so, while it may be a compelling narrative, the players say they don't have a checklist of obstacles to overcome as they chase MLS Cup.
“I don’t think we’re trying to exorcise any demons or anything like that," Opara said. "We’re just trying to win every game that’s in front of us."