KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City lost three straight games to end the regular season and the Vancouver Whitecaps rode a hot-streak that booked their ticket to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The circumstance gave the Whitecaps and interim head coach Vanni Sartini confidence heading into Children’s Mercy Park in the first round.
After their Decision Day game, Sartini was getting ready to speak with reporters. The communications staff opened up by telling reporters they would be playing Sporting Kansas City.
“No, we’ll beat Sporting Kansas City – it’s different,” Sartini said, a short, confident statement coming off an emotional high after qualifying for the playoffs despite taking over as head coach mid-season.
But that was enough for Sporting KC to spoil the Whitecaps’ playoff party.
“I was watching it before we went out. We’re a confident team, but we’re humble. We don’t disrespect any opponent we play,” said Sporting KC forward Khiry Shelton, who scored the first goal of the night. “We have the utmost respect for the opponents we play because we know this game can go either way. It’s just crazy that you have a coach that’s joking around and saying stuff like that in an interview. It’s beyond me.”
The bulletin-board material helped push Sporting KC to a 3-1 victory with goals from Shelton, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Graham Zusi.
Zusi scored his first-ever playoff goal with a vintage strike from distance.
“Lots of good results from them towards the end of the season so I think their confidence was deserved,” Zusi said. “But playoffs are a bit of a different beast and I think we did well to get that win. “
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes agreed with Zusi that confidence is not enough to win in the playoffs, but said the external motivation from Sartini’s comments was a boost for his club.
“You have to be very careful about challenging the pride and the respect of another group of people, especially when you’re competing against them,” Vermes said. “When you provide external motivation to a group of guys that are pretty proud and are really professional about what they do every day, and they’re extremely humble and committed to what they do and have a lot of respect for the opponent, it changes things really quickly.”
Sartini did not back down from his comments after the loss. He said that confidence is needed to be successful, even if you end up being wrong sometimes.
“It’s like if someone says, ‘Hey you were wrong.’ I say, ‘Yeah you’re right. I was wrong.’ I’m not right every time but I would say it again because we were so excited and that excitement pushed us and makes something that was inconceivable,” Sartini said. “If you don’t think that you’re able to do something enormous, you don’t even start in soccer. So that’s okay.”
Sporting KC has secured their spot in the conference semifinals and will await the result of Tuesday’s match between No. 2 Seattle Sounders and No. 7 Real Salt Lake.