Sporting KC

With no playoffs ahead, Sporting KC relishes final chance to give home fans a thrill

At 11 a.m., Ilie Sanchez would arrive at Barcelona’s state-of-the-art training facility, Ciutat Esportiva. He’d take directions from head coaches Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola, and battle alongside players such as Lionel Messi and Carlos Puyol for the rest of the morning.

The 19-year-old would then enjoy lunch alongside his Barcelona B teammates and the younger players from Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy before heading to the Universitat de Barcelona for his studies in information engineering and economics.

At the same time, in what would seem a world away for the young Spanish midfielder with goals of fulfilling a professional soccer career, the Kansas City Wizards just missed out on the 2010 MLS playoffs despite finishing third in the Eastern Conference.

Nine years later, Sanchez, now 28, has played for four different clubs, including Sporting Kansas City after signing here in 2017. In that same time span — enough to see a young prospect become a fully fledged professional soccer player — Sporting KC hasn’t missed a single postseason, claiming eight straight playoff berths.

That streak finally came to an end Wednesday night in a 2-1 loss at Minnesota. Sanchez featured in that lineup, playing a full 90 minutes at center back.

“Our first thought was that this situation is something new for this club and for me too as a player, of course,” he said. “I’ve been here for three years and it’s the first time that this has happened. Obviously we are not happy with the performance of the team during the season.”

Sanchez has played a lot since arriving in Kansas City, filling important roles in Sporting KC’s 2017 U.S. Open Cup victory and the run to the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The arrival of a former Barcelona product indicated the pull and dominance that Kansas City had held throughout the 2010s.

Over 1,000 miles north of Barcelona, cushioned up against the Firth of Tay in Eastern Scotland, Johnny Russell was in the midst of his first full season with Dundee United. The 20-year-old Scot had spent the previous three seasons on loan with Forfar Athletic and Raith Rovers and was ready to make the jump to Dundee’s first team.

“That would have been my first full season,” Russell said of 2010.

From that point on, both Russell and Sporting Kansas City continued on upward projections, allowing him to land in Kansas City in 2018 via Derby County. He immediately made an impact, scoring 12 goals and providing 13 assists across all competitions as Sporting KC competed in its eighth straight MLS postseason.

There will not be a ninth.

“Being a part of the team that’s ended that run is not a good feeling at all,” Russell said. “This team has been built on success and making the playoffs year-in-year-out, and as the players, we’ve got to take that — the blame’s got to lie solely on us.

“We’re the guys who go out there to put on the performances to get victories, and we haven’t been anywhere near good enough this year.”

This pair of foreign products — Sanchez and Russell, who have been mainstays for Sporting KC since their arrival — reflect a general consensus among the squad that they’ve let down fans of the club.

Kansas City has dropped 26 points so far this season from leading positions, a fact that is not lost on either player.

“It’s something that no one expected here in the club that I think all of us — I’m not talking about players or coaches — I’m talking about also people around the club, that work very hard for the club,” Sanchez said. “They put everything to avoid this situation during the whole season, and that is why it’s so disappointing.”

With two games remaining in the regular season, Sporting KC has one more chance to play in front of its home crowd at Children’s Mercy Park.

That comes against Portland Sunday night.

“For our last game at home of the season, we cannot wait to bring to all of our fans a win,” Sanchez said. “We want them to be happy for at least the last game at home and we will do everything we can to get the result.”

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