KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Thursday night’s match presented itself with the opportunity Sporting KC were looking for all season long: One game, at home at Children's Mercy Park, with a chance to go to MLS Cup.
Ultimately, they fell short, as the Portland Timbers' second-half performance ruined the 1-0 lead Sporting KC posted, with the visitors prevailing 3-2 in the Western Conference Championship second leg to book their place in the title game. The mood in the Sporting locker room reflected such disappointment. It was uncommonly quiet, and the players' faces told the gravity of the moment.
“It hurts right now,” said captain Matt Besler immediately after the match. “We came up short. We were close. Really close. At the end of the day we didn’t make enough plays in this game when we needed to.”
Daniel Salloi put the home side up 1-0 in the 20th minute, but a rally from the Timbers – initiated by a long-range golazo from Sebastian Blanco seven minutes into the second half – saw the series slip away from Sporting. In the end, they could not recover the advantage, despite scoring another goal to tie up the game, before Diego Valeri sealed the outcome with his second goal of the night at the death.
While the locker room clearly felt the pain of the loss, SKC head coach Peter Vermes had a more upbeat tone, and said the message to his team after the match was one of encouragement.
“The biggest thing for me right now, is I think the guys accomplished a lot this year,” Vermes said. “They’ve evolved as a team. It was an enjoyable team to coach on a daily basis, and we’ve got a lot more ahead of us and we’re in a good direction.”
While the finality of what the result on the night meant may end up being something they can use positively going forward, whether or not this is to be seen as a successful season in the eyes of Sporting KC is a different story.
“You always want a trophy,” said defender Ike Opara. “So that’s the key. That was the big goal that we didn’t accomplish. We accomplished a lot of the little goals. I think we were satisfactory in a lot of categories. But when we don’t get a big trophy, it kind of leaves it hanging.”
In the midst of their most successful era in club history, it’s only the third time in the last seven years that Sporting KC have failed to win a trophy. And while Vermes has argued in the past that trophies don’t always define success, he knows just as much as the rest of them that they fell short.
Still, he too was very pointed when asked if the 2018 season was a success.
“Well, we always want to win trophies. We didn’t win a trophy this year, so I think we came up short.”