When Major League Soccer announced last week that it would use points per game to determine seeding for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes wasn’t exactly singing songs of celebration.
The league’s decision was perfectly justifiable considering the fact that clubs would end the 2020 regular season with an uneven number of games played due to COVID-19. Vermes’ only concern was that Sporting no longer controlled their own destiny when it came to the pursuit of a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Fast-forward to now, however, and that destiny is back in Sporting’s control without the club playing a single game. Vermes’ men occupy first place in the West, sitting on 1.8 points per game, and can clinch the top seed Sunday when the side visits rivals Real Salt Lake as part of MLS Decision Day 2020 presented by AT&T.
“What I wasn’t so sure about was whether we would be able to control our own destiny (for first place),” Vermes said this afternoon during a discussion with Sports Radio 810 WHB host Soren Petro. “Now it comes to the final game and we are in a position to do that, and I think that’s a spot you want to be in. The guys are proud of the fact that they’re here and also that they have the chance to control it.”
Sunday’s clash kicks off at 5:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports GO and ESPN 94.5 FM. It will mark the culmination of an unprecedented season that has spanned eight months but only 20 matches due to COVID-19 complications.
Despite the numerous challenges the 2020 campaign has presented, Vermes believes his team is catching full stride at an opportune time. The team is 5-1-1 since the start of October and has posted three shutouts during that stretch.
“I thought we started off really well at the beginning of the year, but since those two games, this is probably the most confident and most ‘like us’ we have been, for sure,” Vermes said.
Fair enough—but what exactly does “like us” mean?
“A team that controls the ball, has confidence,” Vermes said. “It’s not hard to see when you’re clicking and guys are moving off the ball and you’re comfortable out there. That’s what the guys look like at the moment.
“The easiest way to say it is we’re ruthless in defense and relentless in the attack. That’s what I would say. That’s who we are.”
Vermes, who has become the first coach in MLS history to lead a single club to nine playoff appearances, has an opportunity to secure his second first-place conference finish in 10 seasons on Sunday. Asked if this was one of the best Sporting teams he has coached, the 12th-year manager spoke glowingly about his current side but acknowledged that winning a trophy would go a long way in answering the question.
“This is a really good group,” Vermes said. “I would say it’s right up there. We have to go and try to win something, and that’s always a deciding factor when you look at each of your teams.
“All of these things are coming together at a really good time. It’s a very good team and one of the better team’s we’ve had here. We are coming into good form at the right time.”