The expression is often repeated within the Sporting Kansas City ranks, among coaches, players — anyone, really — and it was echoed ad nauseam this week. Treat the next match as the most important one of the season, they said.
It’s really just a spin on the always-applicable one-game-at-a-time mantra — a banality that will be put to the ultimate test this weekend.
Sporting KC plays host to Seattle at 4 p.m. Sunday in a nationally televised game featuring a pair of clubs battling for Western Conference playoff positioning.
A significant match, right?
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Well, it comes only three days before the club travels to Philadelphia to battle the Union for the U.S. Open Cup championship, a game that includes a trophy, prize money and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
And that looming match has made all those don’t-look-ahead instructions quite difficult to follow.
“It’s tough. I’m not going to lie,” Sporting KC defender Kevin Ellis said. “It’s hard not to think about that you’re going to playing in a final on Wednesday night. But when you’re playing a team like Seattle, we have to treat that game like a final, too. It’s a big game in our conference. We need to get points from it.”
And here’s another element: With such a critical match Wednesday, it’s reasonable to believe Sporting KC will choose to rest some of its players Sunday in preparation. Of course, if that’s the case, coach Peter Vermes isn’t tipping his hand.
“I will put out the best team that I can (while) taking everything into account,” Vermes said. “In these situations, it’s the number of games we’re playing in a short period of time that we have to take into consideration as much as anything else.”
A couple of those harder decisions were made for him earlier this week. Captain Matt Besler and midfielder Benny Feilhaber will serve one-game suspensions Sunday after picking up yellow cards in this week’s loss to Houston, putting them over the season limit.
They were suspensions that were bound to come at some point over the stretch of the season, and a break before the Open Cup final perhaps serves as quality timing.
But a club that has fought myriad injuries for the second straight season doesn’t have a lot of options for replacements. Besler has spent the past five months playing alongside Ellis, who was already filling in for Ike Opara. Without Besler available Sunday, Sporting KC could turn to 18-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown at central defender.
Feilhaber has been the unquestioned commander of Sporting KC’s offensive attack this season, and he entered the weekend tied for the MLS lead with 14 assists. He’s tied for the club lead with 10 goals.
In other words, they represent two noteworthy absences. But the silver lining, of course, is it leaves both players fresher for the Open Cup final.
Not that the club is looking ahead.
“I think anytime you get a chance to win a trophy, it’s a big situation — we get that,” Vermes said. “It’s just that we have a big game in front of us first, which is Sunday. It’s a little bit of an issue. There’s only three days before we’re in (Philadelphia).
“But anytime you get a chance to play for a championship, it’s a good thing.”
To reach Sam McDowell, call 816-234-4869 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcDowell11. Tap here to download The Star’s free Extra Time KC soccer app for iOS and Android devices.