Peter Vermes didn’t pull any punches after Sporting Kansas City’s exit from the MLS is Back Tournament, a 3-1 loss Thursday evening against the Philadelphia Union.
He took the blame for Sporting's lacking fight, especially in the first half, when a Sergio Santos brace and Jamiro Monteiro opener provided three blows in a 15-minute span. Two of the goals followed Sporting’s own attacking set-pieces as counter-attacks went the other way.
“The team wasn't ready and it is my fault,” Vermes said. “What I will say, and I will say it this way, is that very seldom as I've been coach at this club have I gone into a game with our team where they came out and they just weren't into the game, they didn't want to win, especially a Knockout Round when we've won plenty of Open Cups, we've been in playoff games, whatever. To come out and play the way we did in the first half, it was embarrassing.”
Sporting midfielder Ilie Sanchez piggybacked on Vermes’ comments, saying his team lacked ambition. They advanced past the Vancouver Whitecaps on penalty kicks in the Round of 16 and topped Group D, but then fell flat when the stakes rose another level.
“We didn't play to win the game, we didn't deserve it and I think we lacked ambition to go start the game in the right way,” Sanchez said. “Other than that, I could start saying all the things that we did wrong but if we don't have the ambition and the desire to win, it doesn't make sense to keep talking about what we made wrong during the game.”
Vermes drew a comparison to the San Jose Earthquakes, who under head coach Matias Almeyda are flying before their own quarterfinal Saturday against Minnesota United.
Vermes called the Quakes the tournament favorite, hailing their work rate since the Argentine took over. A hint of envy even surfaced from the 11-year head coach.
“Their guys, they work, they work,” Vermes said. “They're the hardest working team in Major League Soccer at the moment and they deserve to get the credit and they deserve to be talked about because of the way that they go after the game, all the players on the team. We're not even in that class, we're not even close.”
Sporting weren’t entirely lifeless, with forward Alan Pulido heading home just before halftime to stop the bleeding. But they had no answer after the interval, as Jamaican goalkeeper Andre Blake finished with six saves.
It all left Vermes clearly frustrated, even as Sporting occupies first place in the Western Conference standings. They leave Orlando with a sour taste and look ahead to a possible 2020 regular season restart, with midfielder Roger Espinoza remarking that Philadelphia consistently beat them to second balls.
As for Vermes, he bluntly said they didn’t wake up until being down 3-0.
“I can't sit through 90 minutes of the kind of game that we had today, even though I thought in the second half we tried to come back,” Vermes said. “But it's easy when you're down 2-0, 3-0, it's easy to now all of a sudden start to fight and the other team takes the foot off the gas pedal. The psychological change in your mind is an easy one. It's what do you do when it's 0-0 and how do you play? And when it was 0-0, we fell very, very short of our quality."