Sporting Kansas City entered the penultimate week of the MLS regular season with their chances of a first round bye fading. On the back of a three-game winless run, Sporting were faced with road trip that would take them to Vancouver then to first-place FC Dallas in an effort to gain momentum and avoid the midweek Knockout Round that has proved their undoing in each of the past four seasons.
Going into halftime on Wednesday, the Whitecaps led 1-0 through a Felipe goal as they sought to improve their own playoff hopes. A late surge with three goals in the final eight minutes buoyed SKC onto an impressive 4-1 win that drew them level with LAFC, and just a point behind Dallas.
"When we played Vancouver. The first half, we were fine tactically," said SKC manager Peter Vermes. "We were knocking the ball around but we didn't have a sense of urgency. In the second half, we'd talked about it at halftime, we had a much different sense of urgency. I think that's why you saw the goal explosion if you will."
It was a big result for Sporting, but they still had to travel to first-place Dallas. A team who had a full week to prepare to defend their record of just one defeat at Toyota Stadium. As a cagey first half was drawing to a close, Daniel Salloi gave Sporting the lead after Reggie Cannon failed to clear his shot off the line. Roger Espinoza extended the lead midway through the second half, after Tim Melia saved a Reto Ziegler penalty kick, before Johnny Russell added a late penalty as SKC leapt to the top of the Western Conference standings heading into Decision Day presented by AT&T thanks to a 3-1 win.
"Today, we talked about it leading into this game," said Vermes. "We can't afford to spend a half just hanging out. The difference was I don't think we necessarily played all that well in the first half, but we worked hard and I think that was the difference in the game for us."
The win clinched homefield advantage if Sporting do find themselves in the Knockout Round, and control over their own fortunes next week as a draw will secure a top-two finish. As the sudden form team in the west, how do things look going into next Sunday as they host second-place LAFC at 3:30 p.m. CT.
"It's amazing how close everything is and it all comes down to the last game but we obviously did ourselves a favor in the last two games getting two wins, both on the road, and now we get to go back home," Vermes told MLSsoccer.com's Jillian Sakovits after the match. "Hopefully we can put another performance together and put ourselves in a really good position going into the playoffs."