There's a sense of familiarity around Sporting Kansas City, the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. One year after missing the postseason, they’re again the top dog in the West, a position they last held in 2018.
While questions around merit might pop up, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in teams playing varying amounts of games and not facing a sizable chunk of clubs, head coach Peter Vermes isn’t buying into those arguments.
“You don’t achieve first place because you’re a bad team. I just don’t know how that happens,” Vermes said on the latest Extratime episode. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, both as a player and as a manager and I don’t know how that happens, first and foremost. I think that if we were in quotes, if you want to say, a ‘one-hit wonder,’ a team that has been really poor over a consistent number of years and then all of a sudden out of nowhere we achieved this, sure, doubt it, question it, understand.
“ … At the end, I don’t really care. What matters to me is how we think about our team, how our guys think about themselves and how they go into their games.”
On the latter part, Vermes hailed his team’s ability to get a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake – at Rio Tinto Stadium and in a snowstorm on Decision Day presented by AT&T, no less – to clinch the No. 1 spot. That helped them stave off the No. 2 Seattle Sounders and No. 3 Portland Timbers on points per game, plus they had at least a game in hand on both clubs had total points been the final decider (they all finished with 39).
Now, as playoffs get underway, Sporting could be without star striker Alan Pulido, who scored six goals and added five assists despite featuring in only 12 of their 21 matches this year while dealing with injuries and being with Mexico on international duty. The club-record signing is coping with a knee injury, and Vermes stopped short of ruling him out entirely.
“Alan is still kind of week-to-week, and so it's almost as if he's day-to-day that we're continuing to monitor where his situation is, so I would not say that he's in or out at this moment,” Vermes said via conference call Friday. “It's just one of those things where every week I'm going to assess, with the medical staff, of, ‘Is he healthy enough that he doesn't put himself in jeopardy?’ That'll be my biggest decision each and every day, and right now, like I said, he's not out but he's not in. We're just going to continue to keep monitoring as we go through.”
Vermes also knows they won’t breeze through the playoffs, especially when hosting No. 8 San Jose for a Round One match Nov. 22 (4 pm ET | TV & streaming info). Both on Extratime and in Friday’s press conference, he heaped praise on their progress under head coach Matias Almedya.
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“Our perception, our view and observation of them and our evaluation is that they are actually a very, very good team,” Vermes said of San Jose. “They're a very tough team to play against, and we know that it's going to be a battle. The only thing that we're focused, concentrated on is this game against them.
“We look at it as it's a one-game final that we have to try to get past. We're going to do everything that we can with the days we have remaining to be in the best form that we can be at that time and give everything we have. That's where we sit."