Win or go home. It doesn’t get more simple than that.
For the first time since 2013, Sporting Kansas City has the opportunity to make it to the MLS Cup Final. All they have to do is win on Thursday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
First Leg Draw Sets up “Win or go Home”
After a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Providence Park, Sporting KC welcome the Portland Timbers to Kansas City for the second time this year. The first time the Timbers were in town back in August, Sporting KC dominated throughout the entire match, winning 3-0.
Vermes expects it to be different this time around.
“It’s truly a final and they’re going to be really good, and we’re going to try to be really good and everybody’s going to be going after it,” Vermes said after the first-leg draw on Sunday. “It’s going to be one of those games where it’s probably going to be down to the wire.”
Despite holding the Timbers scoreless on Sunday, Sporting KC is well aware of the potent attack that Portland brings. The first half was mostly dominated by the Timbers, who’s high press appeared to cause problems for Sporting KC at times. It was Portland who had the best chances throughout the half, including a near-goal that bounced off the same post that cost Sporting KC a knockout round victory three years ago.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) November 26, 2018
“They have a lot of very good players on their team. We were aware that there were certain things that we had to eliminate if we could,” Vermes said. “We understand they came with everything tonight. It was a tough game. I thought defensively we were very strong.”
Sporting KC now go back to Children’s Mercy Park where they’re an incredible 21-3-11 (W-L-D) over the past two years. Add that to the fact that they’ve allowed 0 goals in 270 minutes against Portland this year, and Sporting KC should feel pretty good.
Nonetheless, their lack of away goals in the first leg looms large. Any draw on Thursday night would see Portland go through on the away goals tie-breaker. Sporting KC won’t be able to afford giving up an early goal, which will force SKC into more of an attacking mindset from the get-go.
“It’s going to be a completely different game because we’re going to be at home,” said defender Matt Besler. “We’re going to be in front of our fans. We expect to play at probably a higher tempo.”
Sporting KC forward Diego Rubio, who missed the first leg due to yellow card accumulation, will likely return to the starting lineup. Since yellow card accumulation doesn’t carry over into MLS Cup, midfielder Roger Espinoza, who was sitting on a yellow in the first leg, will feel a bit more freedom to be physical in the middle of the field with midfielder Diego Valeri.
However, the same goes for Valeri, as well as teammates Sebastian Blanco and defensive midfielder Diego Chara, who is known for his chippy style of play.
All-in-all, though, a “win and you’re in” game at home is just about all Sporting KC could have asked for.
“If you had told us at the beginning of the season that we were going to be 90 minutes away from the Cup final, at home, of course we’re going to take that,” said forward Johnny Russell.
Midfielder Ilie Sanchez agrees.
“Knowing that we have 90 minutes at home to get to the championship final, it’s a dream for us.”