Sporting KC

‘Dark times, man.’ Inside Sporting KC’s 48 hours after playoff heartbreak

Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes reacts to playoff loss to Portland

Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes reacts to the teams 3-2 playoff loss to the Portland Timbers, sending them on to the 2018 MLS Cup.
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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes reacts to the teams 3-2 playoff loss to the Portland Timbers, sending them on to the 2018 MLS Cup.

Graham Zusi spent the past 48 hours trying not to think about Sporting Kansas City’s playoff exit Thursday at Children’s Mercy Park. He wasn’t naive to believe it would be easy. He figured the game would pop into his mind, perhaps even frequently.

But not like this.

Zusi fell asleep Saturday night, and when he awoke Sunday morning, he realized he had replayed the match all over again. In his sleep. As some sort of cruel nightmare.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,” he said, adding, “It’s tough to even remember the past couple of days, to be honest. Those were dark times, man.”

The locker room was unsurprisingly quiet Thursday, the immediate aftermath following Portland’s 3-2 comeback victory in the second leg of the Western Conference Finals. The Timbers will move on to face Atlanta in the MLS Cup on Saturday.

It’s been quiet in the extended aftermath, too. At least on that subject.

Sporting KC players have group text message chains. They talk almost daily. And they still have.

Just not about this.

“We’ve communicated about some other things off the field we had to talk about. The on-the-field (topic) didn’t really come up,” Sporting KC defender Ike Opara said. “Obviously it stings, and no one really needs to talk about it at the moment.”

The group was together on Sunday morning, filing into Pinnacle, the team’s practice facility, for exit physicals. The players packed their belongings into plastic bags and transported them to their cars.

It was their final time together as a full group. While Sporting KC will retrain the bulk of its roster, there will be some turnover. The club already announced Friday that it has declined options for midfielder Cristian Lobato, forward Kharlton Belmar and defenders Brad Evans, Colton Storm and Amer Didic.

“It’s always a sad feeling, especially when you’re cleaning out our locker at the end of the year,” Opara said. “You’re kind of walking away with your black bag and thinking of the faces that will change. It’s a little sad moment that tears you up when you walk out of here.”

Sporting KC finished first in the Western Conference with 62 points, its second best total in franchise history. It set a club record with 65 goals. Finished third in the league in goals against.

This was its best season since the 2013 MLS Cup championship side, and coach Peter Vermes called this one a more talented group.

It was close to replicating the end-of-year success of the team. For 50 minutes Thursday, it was all over Portland, in complete control of the match, before Sebastian Blanco’s goal changed the complexion of the match.

In time, they will likely come to appreciate the accomplishments of the season as a whole.

But not yet.

Sporting KC defender Seth Sinovic usually re-watches full games in the days afterward. Yes, even playoff losses. But he hasn’t watched this one.

“This was a really, really good year — a really fun group,” Sinovic said. “I think we had a really, really strong team. It’s one of those where it’s tough to look back on it. I’m sure in another week or so I’ll go back and watch (the playoff game). I’m still pretty frustrated about the game and don’t want to put myself through it.”

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