KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting KC was a heavy favorite over Real Salt Lake going into the Western Conference Semifinal of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
They held the lead for more than 40 minutes through the end of the first half and into the second-half following a Johnny Russell penalty kick in the 24th minute.
But two goals in the final 20 minutes to two RSL substitutes, including a stoppage-time goal in the 91st minute by Bobby Wood, ended all hopes of SKC avenging their losses to RSL this season.
“We lacked a pep in our step or something, but they were they were better team today,” SKC’s manager and sporting director Peter Vermes said.
“That’s the easiest way to say it.”
Goalie Tim Melia said this loss being at home to any team, let alone a bitter rival, makes this defeat sting a little more.
“They kind of set up for us a little bit with how their results went and ultimately we didn’t take advantage of it,” Melia said.
“This game was an opportunity to have the backings of our fans and our support system and essentially in the biggest moment, we faltered. Nothing else more than that.”
“That wasn’t even a shade of us today,” a clearly dejected Johnny Russell said who gave the team its lone goal in the 24th minute off of a penalty kill.
“Sat back too much, give them way too much respect, give them way too much of the ball.”
Sporting has struggled with crosses all season long and that proved to be a factor in both goals that sealed the win for RSL.
“The first goal I’m kind of caught out of position. I see [Damir] Kreilach and [Anderson] Julio making runs and I’m just trying to put myself into position where I’m splitting the difference and ultimately it just doesn’t work out,” Melia said.
“Those are the moments where we gotta come coming across, flying across the goal and drag a body with us if it has to be that way. We just didn’t play with that mentality the whole game and they did.”
As for moving forward, Russell said he’ll give his teammates a few days to process the game and then address them. But he hopes they take a look inward as well.
“Every single one of us needs to look in the mirror after that,” Russell said.
“We didn’t close down the cross, we didn’t stop the cross when it came in, weren’t aggressive enough in the buildup to stop the cross, to defend the cross.”
“There’s so many errors you can pick leading up to the two goals. … When you fought so hard all year and then to give away goals like that, it sucks.”
SKC had a chance to host every game leading up to the MLS Cup. Vermes said this was a magical opportunity that the team let slip away.
“I try to tell guys all the time: You don’t get these kinds of opportunities in your life all that much, especially in the profession you’re in. So when you get them, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready and prepared for them,” Vermes said. “This is a missed opportunity for sure.”