Editorial (November 14, 2018) — Stop me if you’re a Sporting KC fan who has heard this story before.
There are just minutes left in the game. The team is clinging to a one-goal lead. The opponent starts throwing numbers forward in an attacking barrage, earning shot-after-shot and corner kick-after-corner kick. A single mental error leaves a man unmarked, leading to a last-second goal and a lost win.
It’s a familiar refrain over the last five years for SKC fans. And it almost happened again Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park in the club’s first home playoff game since the 2013 MLS Cup.
Until it didn’t.
Sporting KC Shows They Can Win Close Games When Needed
A 97th-minute clearance by Yohan Croizet cleared the ball of any danger, and a poor header by RSL defender Brooks Lennon let Daniel Salloi take a single touch around goalkeeper Nick Rimando before sealing the Sporting KC win with a Roberto Firmino-esque no-look finish.
“In the late flurry, they had a couple real dangerous opportunities,” said Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes. “But at the end, the fourth goal was fantastic.”
“A couple real dangerous opportunities” may be the understatement of the year. Real Salt Lake earned a number of corner kicks that tested Sporting KC’s defense in the waning minutes of the game, but no chance was better than Nick Besler’s 83rd-minute look on goal.
Still can't believe RSL didn't put this ball in. pic.twitter.com/IBfL146VlU
— Jimmy Mack (@jcmack03) November 13, 2018
The younger Besler hesitated just long enough that SKC’s defense closed the gap, forcing the shot wide to the left. The rest is history.
“I told the guys at halftime that we were going to have to sacrifice our bodies in the second half,” Vermes continued. “It was going to be really, really difficult with everything they were going to throw at us in the second half. We did it.”
It’s a monumental victory for a club that earned its first playoff win in five years. Many considered Real Salt Lake one of the toughest match-ups for Sporting KC, but Vermes’ side showed that it can buckle down and hold onto a single goal lead when required.
The game also highlighted the importance of home-field advantage, something that Vermes stated was a goal before the season began.
According to Sporting KC defender Matt Besler, the near 20,000 people in the crowd were a big reason for the defensive stand.
“They brought it. That showed. A lot of credit has to be given to the fans,” Besler said. “And then the last 10 minutes of the game. We needed a pick me up. They brought the energy. That goal that Daniel scored – that might have been the loudest I’ve ever heard the stadium.
“We knew they were gonna be good, but they exceeded my expectation. They were unbelievable.”
Besler wasn’t the only Sporting KC player who felt the crowd’s energy.
“This crowd was crazy. They deserved this win,” said Salloi. “Thanks for all the support because we needed that, especially at the end. You need the fans and a little bit of luck and that’s how you advance.”
Sporting KC now goes on to face another team with one of the best home field atmospheres in MLS in the Portland Timbers. SKC earned a 0-0 draw at Providence Park in June of this year, but they expect a much different game this time around.
“We’re in the playoffs now. Things are different in the playoffs. Teams play differently,” Vermes said. “There’s a lose or go home idea. You win or you’re out. We’re gonna have to be ready.
“It’s going to be an incredible series. They’re a very, very good team both attacking and defending. It’s going to be a tough one.”