Five years of waiting for a home playoff game is almost over.
Sporting Kansas City reconvened on Wednesday for the first practice session since their 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake last Sunday in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals first leg, gearing up for Sunday's Leg 2 (2 p.m. CT | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
It was expected to be a lighter work day for them, but their training session ended up being more than an hour long. Peter Vermes barked orders at his players to be sharper, make better passes, be quicker, be stronger, finish better. It was intense. But the squad was clearly up for it. That type of intensity seems to be just what Sporting are looking for heading into their first home playoff match since 2013.
It was their stated goal for 2018, and they successfully avoided the Knockout Round of the postseason. Now that it’s finally here, they’re ready to push forward on the task at hand, advancing in the playoffs.
“I think we’re pretty focused,” Sporting KC forward Johnny Russell told MLSsoccer.com. “We got a good result away from home. A difficult place to go. We got a positive result, got a couple days to rest, and we’re back in now and it’s time to go again. Obviously we’re excited to be in the position we’re in. But at the same time, it’s time to focus and we have a huge game at hand on Sunday.”
Sporting KC have talked up the impact they know their crowd can have. Captain Matt Besler has issued challenges to the fanbase multiple times, telling them he wanted every team that comes into Children’s Mercy Park to feel their presence, and feel the weight of the game.
After Sporting KC played the LA Galaxy to a draw in the beginning of October, Besler reiterated his point: “If our fans bring it like they brought it tonight, for our last home game and the playoffs, I’ll take us against anybody making an MLS Cup run.”
Now that opportunity to make such a run is here. Seth Sinovic, a member of Sporting's 2013 MLS Cup-winning squad, feels like there is the right mix of focus and hype headed into their first home game since that fateful final.
“We’ve been building towards a home game all year," he said. "We think we’ve got the best home advantage in the league, we know the crowd is going to be rocking. We know the task ahead of us, and we’re going to be going for the win.”
Vermes feels like their focus headed into this home match is similar to what they went through towards the end of the regular season, when they won two road games in a week on their way to earning the West's No. 1 seed.
"It’s kind of like when we played Vancouver and we played Dallas,” Vermes said. “We won both of those games and everybody is like, ‘Oh wow you got those two games out of the way and now you’re coming home,' but it really doesn’t mean anything because the job is not done. It’s great. But the job is not done.
"I think it’s the same way here. We don’t feel like we’ve accomplished anything yet.”