Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler stood in front of his locker Tuesday night and asked his team to spend the next few days reflecting on one its most disappointing results of the season. Most notably, Besler explained, Sporting KC played with a lack of urgency during a 1-1 draw against Real Esteli FC in CONCACAF Champions League group play.
Four days later, the urgency is back. So, too, is the Major League Soccer playoff push.
Sporting KC players insist they’ve learned a lesson from Tuesday’s result. And that’s a well-timed exercise, even as Sporting KC switches competitions Saturday when it plays at Toronto FC in an MLS match.
“There are no layups,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “There’s too much parity in the league to think you’re going to go into someone else’s place and because of their record, you’re going to win. It doesn’t work that way in our league. You can never take anybody lightly.”
That sentiment rings especially true with a trip to Toronto on the docket. Toronto FC owns the second worst record in the MLS (4-14-11) and is one of only two teams in the Eastern Conference already eliminated from playoff contention.
One of those four victories, however, came against Sporting KC back in March.
Sporting KC earned payback with a 3-0 win two months ago, but Toronto has undergone numerous changes in its lineup in the succeeding weeks. It continued its rebuilding process Friday when it announced Tim Bezbatchenko as the club’s new general manager.
“I think they’re a different team from the last time we played them,” Besler said. “They’ve had a lot of changes with their personnel and style. It’s going to be a tough game for us, for sure, because they play well at home and make it tough on the opponent.”
This certainly wouldn’t be good timing for a second consecutive letdown. Sporting KC is locked in a battle for playoff positioning with only six matches remaining. It trails New York by three points in the race for the No. 1 seed.
“Every week is going to feel like it’s the biggest game of the season,” Besler said. “We’re trying to position ourselves for a home seed. We have to play well, and we have to make sure we don’t give anything away.”
As they nearly did Tuesday. Sporting KC had to come back to earn the draw with Real Esteli FC, a Nicaraguan team that hadn’t won an international match in 36 tries. Still, Sporting KC sits in a good position to advance from its CCL group.
Granted, that’s a different competition, and the results don’t carry over. The mind-set, however, does.
“That was on us. It was absolutely on us,” Vermes said. “That, hopefully, is a precursor to understanding that as you go into the rest of these games in the MLS and the next CCL game, you can’t take anything lightly.
“The second you think you got it, you get burned. That sense of urgency has to be there every time you step inside the white lines.”