The halftime break can sometimes be a time for coaches to light into their players with the goal of creating a spark. For head coach Peter Vermes, the intermission of Sporting Kansas City's match against expansion side Austin FC at Children's Mercy Park on Sunday was not one of those occasions.
With his team in a 1-0 hole after an early finish from Austin's Jon Gallagher, Vermes said his halftime message to his group was a simple one following an open 45 minutes that saw his team rack up a plethora of quality chances with no goals to show for it.
"What I really appreciate about the guys, I said to them at halftime: 'There's no reason to come in at halftime and feel down. We created some really good chances,'" Vermes said on his postgame video call.
It turned out to be prophetic from the longtime Sporting coach, as his club completed the comeback and took all three points thanks to an 82nd-minute leveler from Ilie Sanchez and a dramatic 90th-minute game-winning header from Gadi Kinda.
The wild finish put Sporting on the victorious side of a hard-fought and end-to-end matchup against an Austin FC side that is proving to be a more than formidable adversary in its inaugural MLS season. Austin managed to maintain the lead from Gallagher's strike all the way until the Ilie's goal, and perhaps would've given themselves a better chance at retaining it if not for captain Alex Ring getting sent off for a second yellow card in the 67th minute.
While he would have liked to have seen some better finishing from his side, Sporting veteran Graham Zusi said that his outlook was similar to Vermes in that he felt as though his team was arguably unlucky to have not had more goals.
"If you look at the game as a whole I think we fully deserved to win the game with the amount of chances that we created," Zusi said. "Some of them, through no fault of our own, the goalkeeper [Brad Stuver] made some fantastic saves against us. A couple of them I think we could have done a little bit better as well, but we created some high, high quality chances in this game and I think we deserved to win.
"Fully took advantage of the red card as well. I think with stoppage time we probably had another 30 minutes left in the game once the red card happened and the guys were calm and collected, continued to play our game and we know that once we're a man up, it should give us ample time to give us more opportunities and a couple of our guys put away some good chances."
It was far from a perfect performance, as the wayward finishing and collection of chances conceded to Austin on the other end leave Sporting with plenty to fine-tune on the training ground.
All told, however, Vermes said he was pleased to get a three-point result at a juncture where he feels like the team is still working its way into form and figuring out the best formula for consistent success.
"I still think we're trying to find ourselves for a number of reasons," the coach said. "We're still trying to get fit, we're trying to just get bodies on the field, there's just a lot of different things that we're trying to do right now. We're just not fully ready yet. And so, what I really like is the guys kept a good mentality going into the second half and really never gave up with trying to get back into the game. And they were purposeful about the decision that they made in and around the box."