RSLvSKC Quotes: "It’s a really proud moment for the club, the staff, the team and the fans"

Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes

Thoughts on the match and on the weather conditions…

We faced a lot this year and I guess it was apropos that we play our game in a blizzard and can’t see the lines. I have to say, I think the referees did a great job. It was just a tough game all around. We had to change our game plan coming into the place once we saw all the snow on the field. I give the guys a lot of credit. They did exactly what we were hoping to do based on the conditions. We talked about set pieces and how important they were going to be. And we talked about how we thought that we could get – especially in the second half – down the channels on them. We brought Erik (Hurtado) on, he makes a great diagonal run, gets the second goal and puts us in a really good position. We knew we were going to suffer an onslaught late in the game with them just hitting balls long. They put us under pressure a little bit but I thought that the backline did a great job and Tim (Melia) as well.

On the team overcoming adversity…

I’m proud of the guys. I’m also proud of the staff and the club. Last year was a very tough year for us with all the injuries we suffered. It was a really tough year in that regard. I felt bad for the guys because I felt we had a very good team. Some things just didn’t go our way, but more importantly, the injuries were just too much for us to overcome. I say the staff also, because the staff didn’t panic. We’ve always been in it. Unfortunately, the year didn’t go as planned but we stayed the course and we stayed true to who we are. We remained loyal and committed to our culture. And we believed. This has been a tough year, but for us to be able to achieve first place in the West based on the circumstances - it was incredibly difficult. And then when things changed to points per game and then we had games cancelled, it’s easy for the guys to have mentally checked out in certain situations. They found a way each time. I give them a lot of credit in this year for the mentality that they’ve had. We all had to endure these new things and the guys have adapted and adjusted and found success. I’m proud of them. I can’t say enough good things about them and the staff.

On having home field advantage in the playoffs…

It’s a big goal of ours every year. We always want to, in some way, shape or form, be in the top two or four to get some home field advantage. We weren’t sure when it was three games to go and they were getting cancelled on us, we started to get concerned because now, all of a sudden, we’re losing opportunities. We have an incredible respect for the other teams in our conference as well as in the league. What we were nervous about and concerned about was the fact that we might not hold our destiny in our hands. Somehow, with a couple different results, the next thing you know we came down to this last game. Tonight was amazing on the field. There was nothing you could do. You couldn’t even play all that well. But we found a way. It’s big for the club. It’s big for the city. Home field advantage is obviously much more important when you do have your full stadium but having some fans is really big.

On the tactical shifts due to the conditions…

We couldn’t build out of the back. That was a given. We had to be very concerned about them playing long balls and then picking up second balls. You couldn’t take chances when it came to any balls played directly in. You just needed to clear them. It wasn’t a game to be bringing the ball down and finding an open man and keeping possession. The other was, we had to have a lot of runs out of midfield and then the forwards had to really make diagonal runs and try to get in behind. The timing of all that stuff had to be on, as well. The second goal took the pressure off. The second goal was exactly what we talked about. That was a big part of going into the second half to try to play into those channels because we really felt when Erik came in, it was going to be a place that he could exploit them.

On matching up with San Jose in the playoffs…

We know how tough it is in our conference. It’s very tough. There’s a lot of really good teams. It’s a really proud moment for the club and for the staff and for the team and for the fans. It’s not easy to slug away like we are right now and keep fighting through all the different things that are happening and finding a way to find success. It’s not easy. I’m proud of everybody for that. I’ve always been a big believer that when you get into these types of environments where it’s the postseason, the bottom line is that everybody who got there is there because they found a way and they’re fighting for it. My respect is immense for all the other teams and all the other staffs that go through this profession. It’s not easy. It’s tough. When you get to this part, the postseason, there’s a difference. I don’t care who you face. It’s a new season and anything can happen on any given day. These are one game finals now. It doesn’t matter who we play, we have to be ready because the other team is going to be ready so we have to be ready. Whether it’s San Jose or anyone else, we know they’re going to be a tough opponent and we have to be ready for the game.

On his experience playing in snow…

I’ve actually played in quite a few games like this, especially when I played in Europe. I think there were quite a few guys on our team that have played in those environments before. I think with all the things guys had to adapt and adjust to just this year, they haven’t blinked when they knew we had to go out onto the field and do what we had to do. They understood and they were ready to go. Nobody was complaining. Nobody was whining. They were like, ‘This is what we’ve got to do. Let’s go guys.’ They were fighting for it. That’s where you know you’ve taken a giant step forward.

On being in the lead at halftime…

We did what we had to do. We won the first half. As I told the guys, the only thing they had to do was at least tie the second half. That’s all we had to do. We were ready for it. The two goals were what we talked about which is fantastic and we were prepared for them. It’s nice to be prepared for something and then execute on it so the guys did a great job.

Sporting Kansas City forward Khiry Shelton

On his goal and on playing in snowy conditions...

It was just a little deflection goal. The ball came across, the ‘keeper punched it out, Ilie (Sanchez) happened to get on the end of it, direct it back on goal and I happened to be there and got a little flick on it and it goes in. This environment was wild but it’s a great experience. I don’t recall playing in a game like this in my professional career so far but it was amazing, something new, and we did well.

On if the win in the snow encapsulates the whole 2020 season...

It’s been a crazy year. This year’s been about adaptability and this team, we came together from day one and then having to go into quarantine, then coming out of quarantine and playing in Orlando. We’ve adapted and we’ve adapted really well and everyone was focused and we remained focused. We’ve got a big game coming up so we’re going to rest up for that and get ready for that. But, man, it’s been a wild season and we’re not done yet.

On clinching first place in the West heading into the MLS Cup Playoffs...

It’s amazing, it’s a blessing and we’ve worked so hard for this and we deserve to be on top. We’ve worked tremendously hard and everyone’s put in the work and effort, not just the players, not just the staff, but the whole organization, they’ve put in the extra work and we did our job. We ended up on top but like I said, we’re not done yet. We’ve still got a game to look forward to and it’s been great.

On what the goals were for 2020 and his conversation with Peter Vermes when he decided to rejoin the club after a stint in Germany...

It’s mutual respect, I have tremendous respect for Peter (Vermes) and our owners and I just want to win. I’m a winner. I work hard, day in and day out, I’m at the facility, day in and day out. I play a key piece in this team but so does every other player. It’s not just me, all of our guys – I know the season last year wasn’t that great but to be able to come back and help in any way I can and have done, I’m thankful.

On how the snowy conditions made even the simple things difficult...

You have to be focused, it’s not a pretty game, there’s not expectations of it being a pretty game. You’ve got to play one and two touch and try to keep it as simple as you can. We did that on the day, we came here to win and we did.

Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia

On how it was playing in the snow and on finishing in first place in the Western Conference...

It was definitely cold, the first half was a little bit colder for me, I think I got a little bit adjusted to it in the second half. Ugly, scrappy, awkward game to say the least, but we came here with an objective to give ourselves home-field advantage in the Western Conference playoffs and hopefully, with some luck, in the MLS finals and we accomplished that so I’m very proud of the way everyone played today. The effort all over the field, the first goal was a little scrappy but just picking up those second balls and Ilie (Sanchez) getting his opportunity and taking advantage of it. Then (Erik) Hurtado coming on, doing what he does, scoring big-time goals almost immediately when he comes off the bench. All-in-all, it’s a huge performance for us. It was one of those where we came in to a difficult situation and we just had to reach our objective and we did, it’s something we should be proud of.

On how difficult it must have been for Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa to make his MLS debut in the snowy conditions...

When you’re getting your first game, you don’t want negative variables thrown at you, such as weather or snow and all that. I thought he handled himself pretty well. For a young goalkeeper in those tough conditions, he still looked to play the ball out of the back so you know he has quality doing that in a normal scenario. You can see moments of quality, sure he’ll want the second goal back but those are things that are going to happen. All-in-all, he looks like a quality goalkeeper. I haven’t seen him a ton but you hope that when you do get your opportunity it’s in better conditions, but it is what it is and I think he did pretty solid for what the cards he was dealt.

On what his focus was on as a goalkeeper dealing with challenging conditions...

My mentality, or my thought process, was to stay closer to my line. The ball was very inconsistent in how it skipped through, there was times it sped up and there was other times it just stopped. There was a couple through balls in the second half where I feel like in normal conditions I would come out and claim pretty easily. I made my mind up that I wasn’t going to put myself in a situation that I didn’t need to be in and I was going to get back and make sure I’m balanced, because it was also very difficult to shoot. Guys aren’t able to hit the ball as clean so I felt like if I’m balanced and back on my line I would give myself the best opportunity to make a save and those are just the things that you have to think about going into games like this and make sure you just put yourself in the best scenario to succeed for the team.

On playing with Roberto Puncec who has played every minute of all seven of Sporting’s shutouts in 2020...

He’s great and I think he’s grown in quality every game. He’s getting more comfortable, his presence on the field is great, his communication – we’re all just getting to know one another, right? Now you have Winston (Reid) in there playing a little bit more consistently with Robi (Roberto Puncec). I think the future is bright, they’re both very good in the air. Robi did phenomenal on one ball actually where I stayed back on my line a little bit and he carried a lot deeper that he normally would have to but he continued to chase the attacker, I believe it was (Corey) Baird and he did a phenomenal job shielding him off then rolling the guy up and then stepping the line up. Robi’s been very impressive and we’re happy to have him here.

On his pride seeing the team make the biggest one-season jump in MLS history from 11th in 2019 to first in 2020...

I think last year has galvanized us as a group, that’s for certain for me. It was a very difficult year and we even had stretches this year where we were inconsistent, but I think as a whole 2020 has been inconsistent for other reasons. I think we learned a lot last year when we weren’t having success and we understand just how important each game is and how points are so important in MLS at any point in the season. This year we did a really good job early on, we got a good amount of points down in Orlando, we had a little lull when we got back but then we really started to hit our stride again and just to come out and have the year we had this year and to have the response – I think it’s something that speaks to Peter (Vermes) and all the staff and the trust they had in us. All-in-all those are great things but now we’re in the playoffs, we have home-field advantage and now we have to take the next step and succeed further.

Real Salt Lake Head Coach Freddy Juarez

On relief that 2020 is over...

I wanted to win this game so bad for many reasons, one of them being for Nedum. For the fans number one. I’m disappointed that we couldn’t give the fans more happy days in such a crazy year. I didn’t think about the relief, I just woke up this morning so excited for the game. There were so many reasons why we wanted to get a win and then all of a sudden crazy weather hits. It was a crazy game, a sloppy game. It was tough for both teams and I thought they probably played a little bit smarter.

On playing in the snow...

It changed the whole game. I’m here saying that if it was nice weather that we would’ve played better because they are a very good team. That’s why they are top of the West. It would’ve been a better game for the fans to watch. They like to play soccer, we like to play soccer. It’s usually a pretty competitive game but the snow just changed it all. Both teams didn’t want to risk anything so we just hit it long. Thank you fans, the ones that came out. It wasn’t easy to stay out there and watch the game, I wish we would’ve won it for you guys. It changed the whole game. Tactics go out the window, it just becomes a grind and you have to take advantage of opportunities.

On what was learned in 2020...

I learned a lot. This was my first year running a whole pre-season and leading the group. A lot of ups and downs. You can’t buy this experience. How to keep the group motivated, what needs to happen with the talent, how important situations are when it comes to managing players. Every year is an opportunity to learn, but I’ve learned so much this year. There’s been experience with coaching a lot of games, but obviously not at this level and you can’t buy this experience. Managing the group, managing the COVID situation, managing the staff. It was tough and challenging at times, but we got through it. At the end of the day it was a beautiful thing in the locker room that lets you feel at ease because we had such a special person like Nedum in there and some players said some very kind words. Nedum had very good words that touched the heart. We’re lucky that we got to play this year.

On the decision to start Ochoa...

I had already started contemplating it after San Jose. Tactically, I thought he was somebody that we could put in there to help us, but it just didn’t turn out that way. Putna was still playing, and he had a good season for us this year. Ochoa started making the roster on the bench, and he showed a lot of growth. The injury he took before Orlando really derailed what we had thought it would go for him. Then he comes back and from there, we send him with the Monarchs, so that he can get some games. We wanted to make sure he got a few games, and then there was the protocol of coming back in the 10 days. There was a lot of having to balance it out. At the end of the day, he got his opportunity in an important game. People may say that you had nothing to win. Well, we wanted to win and we played against a team that wanted to win if they were going to be the best in the west. I thought he handled it well and he deserved the opportunity.

Real Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha

On his final game...

It was crazy. You're going for the game, trying to win and then before you know it, conditions are crazy. I love playing the game, so being out there and being able to play with my teammates one more time felt great. I was really happy on the field. Obviously the result didn’t go our way, but it was a tough game. We fought for each other like we have done throughout the year and obviously things haven't gone our way, but it's definitely going to be a memorable game for me.

On his immediate future...

My kids will get me up at 6:30 in the morning, I’ll get them ready for school and then just see what happens from there. I’m more than ready for it, because I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m happy.

On heading back to England...

I should be heading back at the beginning of December. It will be great to see the family again. It's been a long year away from my sister, my dad, cousins, uncles, all that stuff. Being able to see those people again would be great and then as we reach 2021, we’ll see what opportunities are available. Not necessarily to do something full-time, but getting the chance to do something that I will enjoy doing long-term.

On his 17-year career...

When I first came here I knew what the contract was and I wanted to stop at the end of this year and that was always going to be the plan. To be able to play enough games in the first full season I was here to guarantee this year, that was a goal of mine. This year's just been a real blessing to be able to play. Obviously in 2020 most things are being cancelled, so to be able to actually end my career in front of fans, in a wild game with my teammates, it's not how I would’ve anticipated it to be two years ago, but still the sentiment remains the same and I think it means just as much to me.

On explaining MLS in England...

I think it depends on the nature of the questions in which they ask, but one thing which I'm going to look forward to explaining is just explaining how it was trying to be a professional in 2020. Being here in an election year, it's been quite an experience. There’s going to be a lot to talk about, but I'm looking forward to sharing some of those stories. I feel very privileged to have been able to play in the league. I've enjoyed my time here and I think I've done well here. The stuff that I say is going to be from the heart and this is a place where I’ve made some great memories.

On favorite moment during time here...

I would say when we beat LAFC in 2018, it was my first playoff game. It was probably my second or third game for the team and we were heavy underdogs, so I think winning that game was great. Aside from that, just over the last couple years where we get on a roll here at the stadium in the summer and just beat anybody and everybody. Those spells were also great, but overall to pick one game I’d probably say that one because that's when it really felt like I got to know the energy of what it was to be in the playoffs in the MLS.

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa

On the difference between USL and MLS...

It was definitely way more quick, and the shots were faster too. You just have to be a little more sharp, but other than that nothing.

On mentally preparing for your debut...

They let me know on Tuesday and I just started mentally preparing from there. I’ve obviously worked so hard to get to this point so I wasn’t nervous or anything like that. I just went into it like any other game. It’s an honor to wear this shirt and go out there and play, so I’m just going to put my head down and keep working and hopefully more will come.

On playing in the snow...

I’m from California so I never saw snow until I came to Utah, to the Academy. This is actually my first game playing in the snow, so it was very strange, obviously. It made my job a little more difficult. I had to be a little bit more tuned in, for the flight of the ball, how it bounced in the snow. It made the ball more slippery so I had to make sure to parry and to parry to a good spot. In distribution, I had to hope for the best in that. Hopefully, I don’t have to play in another game with conditions like this, but if I do, now I’m prepared for it.

On his debut being the same game as Nedum’s last...

It was an honor to play alongside him. Obviously, he’s a veteran in the locker room, so me coming in, especially last year as a rookie, he’s one of those players that you look up to. I wish I could have played more games with him just to make my job easier because he’s so experienced. It was a blessing to play alongside him and I wish him all the best in his next chapter. I think of everything he’s helped me with, all the little tips, so it was good.

On not being nervous in his debut...

I wouldn’t say that I’m a nervous type of player. I just go into it like any other game. This is the sport I want to play and I want to play for a lot of years. I love this sport, so I just go into it and try to have fun. We didn’t have anything much to play for, but that didn’t really matter because it was my debut and I really wanted to perform and prove to the coaches that I can play. That’s how I went into the game and hopefully I get more chances later.

On playing time in 2021...

I’m not really hoping for anything. I’m going to take this offseason to keep working, so that I can come in sharp and then go from there. I am a very competitive person and I am always trying to be the best. I’ll always be competing for the number one spot and then going from there.

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