KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City’s incredible turnaround season enters a new chapter with a berth in the Western Conference semifinals in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Sporting KC went from winless through the first 10 matches to fight their way into the playoffs with a Wild Card spot as an 8 seed.
After disposing of 9-seed San Jose Earthquakes on penalty kicks, SKC faced a tough task with cross-state rival one seed St. Louis City SC in Round 1 of the best-of-three series.
Sporting lost the regular season series to STL with two high-scoring losses including a recent 4-1 loss in STL on September 30.
But the club that has faced all the adversity during the season including injuries and public outcries of dismay believed in themselves to move forward.
Sporting beat STL when it mattered most: a 4-1 win on the road to start the series and a 2-1 win on Sunday night to make history as the second eight seed to beat a one seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“The last two games that we played, I think they were very, very high-quality soccer games,” head coach Peter Vermes said. He started his post-game presser by congratulating St. Louis on a great first year in the MLS.
“They’re here, and so it’s it’s, I think it’s great for MLS and then again, I congratulate them because they’ve done a great job with everything.”
For a team that has fought so hard to get where they are, advancing in the playoffs with a huge upset combined with sweeping a rival to do it is soothing to the soul of each person in the club.
“You feel the energy, you feel the fight and it’s a big game,” midfielder Gadi Kinda said. He garnered an assist to Dániel Sallói on Sunday. “So I’m very proud [of] everybody. We would fight, everybody was focused and I’m so happy for the team.”
“Just such an incredible feeling,” forward and captain Johnny Russell said. “We’re gonna celebrate this one on into the night, I can assure you that.”
“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team, be the leader of this team, a captain.”
“The guys that have done everything they can to turn this season around. Honestly, it’s up there with the most enjoyable things in my career.”
This is Sporting’s fourth conference semifinal berth since 2018.
“Probably nobody believed us that we would be in the playoffs,” Sallói said. “Nobody bet on us that we would take St. Louis out. It happened and we keep going. Love being the underdogs.”
After Sporting clinched a playoff spot by beating Minnesota United on Decision Day, Vermes spent some time addressing the folks who doubted Sporting throughout the season because of how rough it started.
On Sunday, he took time to thank the fans who stuck by Sporting all season through losses and wins.
“It’s not fans. It’s a family, right? And I think you gotta stand by your family when things are going tough as well. That’s what I believe. It’s easy in anything you do to stand by somebody or be happy when things are going well. It’s when things aren’t going well,” Vermes said.
“What do you do? And it’s the one thing I told the guys. Every single day we would come to training: I was like ‘Look, at the end, the only people that are gonna get to get us out of this is us. And right now, if we’re the only ones that believe that, no problem, we’re the ones going to make it happen,’ and credit to those guys.
“There’s a lot of fans that obviously support us and all these things and I appreciate the fact that they’ve been with us all along and I think you know, I would say probably 95% of the fans are all were always with us and that was great.
“And I think this is a reward to them as well.”
Sporting awaits the winner of 4-seed Houston Dynamo FC and 5-seed Real Salt Lake to face in the Western Conference semifinals that will begin on November 25-26.