The depths of a mid-summer slump removed Sporting Kansas City from the top spot in the Western Conference last month, and on Wednesday the reverberations bounced the club from a tournament that has bred some of its best moments.
The end of a championship defense, in this case, offered something of a rock bottom.
Sporting Kansas City’s U.S. Open Cup title defense came to a close with a 4-2 loss against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The optics of the match — even more than a fifth-straight result without a victory — drew the ire of coach Peter Vermes post-game, a manager repeatedly questioning the effort of several players.
“I thought some players gave everything they had. There were other players that didn’t give everything they had. More so, I think a couple guys gave up in the game,” Vermes said. “I don’t think we had enough on the field unfortunately to get the job done — I say that now, not thinking that going in.
“You’re not going to win a game when you have certain players that just give up or don’t put the effort in like they have to. That’s the result you get.”
Vermes declined to name specific players, but the next couple of weeks should provide a better insight to those in which he was referring. Because in a follow-up, Vermes was asked what the response will entail to the players he deemed without full endeavor.
He responded forcefully.
“They’re going to find themselves very, very, very, very, very far away from the team and trying to get back in,” he said. “They’re going to have to do some real proving.
“It’s not just my evaluation. It’s other players’ (evaluations) as well. Our team and our club is not built on that type of attitude. That won’t be tolerated.”
Houston moves on to face the winner of Portland and Los Angeles FC in the semifinals. The two teams are scheduled to play later Wednesday. Sporting KC makes the trip home, gone from a tournament that has provided its best during Vermes’ tenure. The franchise has enjoyed more success in the tournament than any of its competitors, hoisting the Open Cup trophy in three of the previous six seasons —2017, 2015 and 2012.
Sporting KC winger Johnny Russell offered an encouraging start, scoring just 110 seconds into the match.
It was all Houston afterwards. It was Houston that possessed the ball more, Houston that unleashed the higher volume of shots, and Houston that dictated the tempo of the entire match.
The Dynamo scored the next four goals, putting Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia under constant pressure. The deficit would have been larger if not for Melia’s seven saves, two of them in a 1-on-1 situation. Vermes blamed two of the goals on either effort or concentration and another on a missed offside call.
“I give a lot of credit and applause to the guys that really, really worked their butts off. They know who they are,” Vermes said. “They were committed to trying to get the result. They’re doing it game after game.”
He closed with, “At the end of the day, it’s disappointing that certain individuals gave up in the game. That’s not something that happens in this club — not for a long time. Like I said, I won’t tolerate it.”