Coach Peter Vermes had nothing positive to say — not a single, solitary thing — in the aftermath of a 4-0 loss the last time Sporting Kansas City played the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
For the players, even those who didn’t set foot on the field for the game, there isn’t enough mouthwash in the world to erase the bitter taste of that defeat, which Sporting KC will use as motivation at 6:30 tonight in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s a good opportunity to go back up there and get revenge,” Sporting KC defender Matt Besler said. “I don’t think we need much motivation going back up there. We got embarrassed on (June 23), but the stakes are going to be high next time we go up there and I think we’re going to be ready.”
Coming up empty in a regular-season MLS tussle, which was the back end of a two-coast swing on the heels of a draw in Seattle, doesn’t qualify as a crippling loss — even if it came by a landslide.
But up for grabs is a spot in the Open Cup final, which will be played at Livestrong Sporting Park should Sporting KC advance, so a loss would be a significant setback.
“We’re looking to win this tournament,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “It’s a chance to qualify for CONCACAF (Champions League), which has been a goal for this team. That’s the bottom line and Philly’s the next step.”
Still, it’s not just any game given the embarrassment of getting flogged by the Union, which had been 2-8-2 entering that game.
“Revenge is against religion, but we still have more energy and more motivation to go there, especially with the final game at home,” defender Aurelien Collin said. “That would be an amazing party. Being at home and playing a final, it would just be amazing.”
Of course, there’s the matter of needing to beat a red-hot Philadelphia squad, which has won four of its last five games starting with the drubbing of Sporting KC and scored 15 goals in that span.
“We can’t really spend a lot of time on what just happened,” Vermes said after knocking off the Dayton Dutch Lions in the Open Cup semifinals three days after that loss to the Union. “I’m beyond it and we’ve just got to move on.”
There’s no doubt that this is the matchup Sporting KC, which is tied at 33 points atop the Eastern Conference standings with D.C. United, wanted.
Besler didn’t even suit up for the previous battle against the Union, but he was champing at the bit to prove something in a rematch.
“The Philly game (angered me),” said Besler, who missed the game while recovery from a June 8 appendectomy. “I hate giving up goals. One of my personal and team goals is to be No. 1 in goals given up.”
From that standpoint, it was not a good night for Sporting KC, but there is no shortage of belief that the outcome will be different this time around.
“I don’t think it shook our confidence as much as we were embarrassed, because we know we’re so much better than that and we wanted to get back on the field to prove it,” defender Seth Sinovic said.
Sporting KC won the Open Cup in 2004, the last major championship the club has claimed.
“It’s a great feeling (to be in the semifinals),” Besler said. “We’re one game away from the finals — 90 minutes. These opportunities don’t come around too often. They don’t come around every year. The guys who are older definitely recognize that.”
In other words, Sporting KC would gladly trade a relatively meaningless 4-0 defeat for a win tonight.