A terrible start doomed Sporting Kansas City on Thursday, and a clearly frustrated head coach Peter Vermes did not mince words in the aftermath.
Sporting KC’s run at the MLS is Back Tournament came to a disappointing end at the hands of the Philadelphia Union on Thursday night. The Union advanced from the quarterfinals bout by 3-1 mark, but what made the defeat and elimination all the more difficult to swallow for Sporting KC was the manner in which the game unfolded.
The Union jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a pair of strikes midway through the first half, and were up by three goals in the 39th minute. It was only after that that Sporting KC “woke up”, scoring a goal just before halftime, but by then the hole was just too big to climb out of.
“When you see that there’s not life in the team,” said Vermes before slightly changing gears. “There’s individuals that worked hard and wanted to win and wanted to fight, but unfortunately the game is not played as individuals. It’s played as a team. Today, the team was not ready to win. Didn’t compete.”
Vermes also said during his post-game videoconference that the Union “wanted it more than us,” though the veteran manager pointed the finger directly at himself for the uninspired start and ensuing elimination.
“I can easily take blame because if the team is not ready, it’s my fault. The team wasn’t ready and it is my fault,” said Vermes. “What I will say and I will say it this way: Very seldom 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.
“We’ve won plenty of (U.S.) Open Cups, we’ve been in playoff games. To come out and play how we did in the first half, it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing and that’s on me.”
Vermes may have taken responsibility for Sporting KC’s bitter defeat, but his players also admitted guilt. Like Vermes, however, they too talked about the team’s collective effort.
“The coach says that, he’s going to blame himself, but as players we have been here for a long time at this club and we know what the expectations are,” said midfielder Roger Espinoza. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly or if it’s a league game or if it’s a competition and a tournament, our job is to get out there and play as hard as we can because those are the expectations that Kansas City has set over the years.
“We did not do that today. There were parts of the game we did that, but when we tried to do that we were already 3-0 down.”
Vermes may not have mentioned any players specifically when talking about his team’s lack of desire, but he pulled two at halftime. Young midfielder Gianluca Busio — who was reportedly going to be scouted in this game by some big European clubs — and left back Luis Martins were the first two changes Vermes made in an attempt to get Sporting KC back on level terms.
It was too little too late, though. The flat start was just too much to overcome.
“I’m not sure why that is. The good thing is I have some time now to figure that out,” said Vermes. “Figuring that out, it’s going to be at the expense of everyone else, meaning all the players in the team, because I can’t sit through 90 minutes of the kind of game we had today.”
While Vermes was far from pleased, he did mention some positives. Namely that Sporting KC performed better in the second half, and that the team sits atop the Western Conference in the regular season standings with a 4-1-0 record.
Still, that was a small consolation prize on a night filled with frustrations.
“We need to get our act together because we can’t play games like that against teams in the west because they’re too good. They’re too good, and they fight for everything,” said Vermes. “I said from the beginning, I thought that San Jose was the favorite. Their guys, they work, they work. They are 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 in the team.
“We’re not even in that class. We’re not even close.”