Updated 10:53 p.m. Nov. 29 with match result — With the 3-2 loss to the Portland Timbers Thursday night, Sporting Kansas City lost its chance to play in the Major League Soccer championship.
Sporting kicked off the scoring with a goal from Daniel Salloi in the 20th minute, but Portland’s Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri scored in the 52nd minute and 61st minute, respectively.
Just after the second goal, a can was thrown on the field and the teams were called to the sideline. Sporting coach Peter Vermes then walked toward the Cauldron fan zone, arms outstretched to ask why that happened.
Sporting’s Gerso Fernandes tied it up in the 81st minute, but Valeri scored his second goal during stoppage time to send the Timbers to the MLS Cup.
Portland will play Atlanta United on Dec. 8 for the league championship.
Original story from Nov. 29: Only because of the snow-covered soccer fields did Sporting Kansas City change up its routine leading into the final game of the MLS Western Conference finals — a match that could bring to a championship berth.
Its amped-up practices during the summer proved to be the key to Sporting’s run through the MLS playoffs, which continues against the Portland Timbers at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Children’s Mercy Park.
To make sure Sporting maintained its accelerated pace of play at the end of this season, coach Peter Vermes tried to make training sessions closer to the intensity level of an actual match.
“The reason why we made the change in the summertime is because we’re a team right now that keeps the ball a lot more than any team we’ve had in the past, meaning that we have possession quite a bit in games,” Vermes said.
Sporting KC ended the regular season at the top of the Western Conference, earning a No. 1 seed, with a record of 18-8-8 and 62 points.
On May 28, Sporting had a 0-0 draw at home against Columbus. Though the team was in first place, Vermes wasn't content.
"We have an obligation to leave everything we have physically on the field and I don't think we did that today," he said after the draw. "It's not something that I take very lightly here."
After an evaulation, Vermes made the change.
“If you’re not training that energy system, then you’re not prepared to do it,” Vermes said this week. “We needed to make sure that whenever we got into a game that it was that way, we’re going to be able to not only manage it, but also hopefully dominate it.”
To the Sporting players, the change in the routine was obvious.
“Yeah, because we had to endure it. We had to run,” said midfielder Roger Espinoza. The 32-year-old logged more minutes (2,825) this season in 32 regular-season matches than in his eight previous seasons in Major League Soccer, all with Kansas City.
Espinoza is in his second tour of duty with Sporting; he played two seasons with Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League, including in 2013, the last year Sporting won the MLS Cup.
“I’ve been trying to be in an MLS Cup (match) my entire career,” he said.
A win over Portland would secure that opportunity.
The conference finals are a two-game series, and the team that scores the most points over those two moves on to the MLS Cup. Neither Sporting nor the Timbers scored in Sunday’s game. The winner of match will take on either the New York Red Bulls or Atlanta United; that game is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.