KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Late into the Kansas City night, it looked like Sporting KC were going to come up short of three points in a must-win match at home.
Then, Erik Hurtado made a run behind, like he had a handful of other times. But this time Johnny Russell played him in through the channel and Hurtado took an extra touch to round Vito Mannone and put the ball into the back of the net to send the Kansas City faithful into a state of euphoria.
A late winner, against a top opponent, in the middle of a playoff chase.
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“It’s second nature.” Hurtado said. “I just go in behind. That’s what I do. I’ve been doing that since I can remember. And I know Johnny played me a magnificent ball, my teammates had been playing me the ball the whole game and I [finally] put it in.”
Hurtado’s work rate and constant willingness to make the run up front is something Sporting KC have welcomed with open arms this season. Although he looked a bit frustrated at how some of his chances had come off on the night, Hurtado’s mentality wouldn’t let hIm quit.
“He’s very powerful,” Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said of Hurtado. “He causes a lot of problems. When you have two big guys like they do in the back … smaller guys like [Hurtado] have a low center of gravity – it’s hard at times for them to deal with a guy like him. And he’s very explosive. He showed that on the goal he scored and a few other plays as well. He’s put those guys under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress in the game.”
Like Hurtado, there was no quit in SKC. Not on the night and not in their playoff push.
With seven matches left, Sporting KC sit three points below the playoff line in the Western Conference, although the Portland Timbers do have two games in hand. Still, Sporting are determined to take that relentless attitude that led to their winning goal against the Loons into the rest of their matches.
“It’s a huge goal for us,” Russell said. “Everyone knows how poor our season has been. But we’re never out yet. I think we’ve shown in the last three games that we’re not ready to give it up without a fight as well.”