About this time last season, the subject of the Supporters’ Shield came up in a conversation between Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes and his players. (Of course, it wasn’t the first occasion.)
There was no specific motivational lesson to be taught — Sporting KC had just completed a regular season atop the Eastern Conference standings — but the discussion led the players and coach to an agreeable conclusion: It was time, they decided, for the franchise to claim the honor for the first time since 2000.
Vermes recalled that chat Friday. It seemed like appropriate timing.
One year later, Sporting KC is in a familiar position. As the club travels to Philadelphia for its regular season finale at 2 p.m. Saturday, it trails New York by only one point in the race for the Supporters’ Shield — an honor bestowed on the top point-getter in Major League Soccer.
“Winning the Supporters’ Shield is a huge, huge accomplishment in our league,” Vermes said. “We’re absolutely interested in doing whatever we can to win it. If there’s any hardware out there, we expect to try to win it.”
It’s more than hardware. Winning the Supporters’ Shield equates to home-field advantage throughout the MLS postseason, which begins with knockout games Wednesday. It would also guarantee the club a spot in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League next season.
“I think it says a lot about our team, about our players and about their consistency that we’re right there (in the mix) again,” Vermes said. “It says a lot about the way they go about their business that they have an opportunity to win the Supporters’ Shield after almost taking it home last year.”
Sporting KC does need a little help to make it happen. It first needs to win Saturday in Philadelphia. That would force New York to match that result Sunday against Chicago.
If either match goes against Sporting KC, though, it would be looking at a second-place finish in the race for the Supporters’ Shield for a second straight year. While it won the Eastern Conference last season, Sporting KC finished runner-up to San Jose as the MLS point leader.
Sporting KC is at a slight disadvantage in that it must play on the road this weekend, while New York plays host to Chicago.
Or maybe not. Sporting KC owns the only winning road record in the league this season. The club is 7-5-4 away from Sporting Park — which includes a 3-2 victory in Philadelphia way back on March 2.
Philadelphia returned the favor with a 1-0 victory at Sporting Park last month.
“I think we’re very focused when we’re on the road,” Vermes said. “The tempo is fast, and we enjoy that environment. I think that’s one of the reasons we have a good record on the road. I think the guys relish the opportunity to take some points away from the home team.”