By ALAN HAINKEL
In what will be weather more suited to playing ice hockey on a backyard pond (Saturday’s forecast high is 24), Sporting Kansas City will try to win their franchise’s second MLS Cup, having won their first in 2000.
This time, however, they will be playing in front of their home fans, in what will be the club’s 36th consecutive sellout. They will also be trying to do something that hasn’t been done in Kansas City since 1985, winning a league championship at home, when the Royals won the World Series.
Despite what could arguably be called the biggest game in club history, Sporting Kansas City is trying to maintain a sense of normalcy through the group by staying active in the community. As an example, several players attended the league event at Ronald McDonald House where the basement was remodeled with a soccer theme in just 10 days.
“Of course, it’s a very exciting moment, but we have to keep it as normal as possible, ” said goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. “Whatever we’ve done the whole year to prepare ourselves for each game, week after week, has taken us to where we are today. So, I think it’s awesome that there’s so much attention to the MLS Cup and a lot of media. It’s just a signal how the soccer is growing in America. I think it’s super cool. We’ve got to keep all our emotions calm and everything, but we’re all pumped and super excited for Saturday.”
Manager Peter Vermes considers having the final at home a great reward for the consistent play from the club all season.
“I think that’s the significance of this MLS Cup, and that is that for Kansas City, we’ve never had it here before, and now we have the opportunity of hosting not only MLS Cup, but more importantly hosting it and having our team participate in it at the same time,” Vermes said.
“So, from that perspective, I think it’s tremendous, but I would agree with Jimmy, and even Graham (Zusi) for his statement earlier, and that is that as much as it’s nice to be here, we’ve still got some unfinished business in one more game. That’s what truly is our focus and our guys have been tremendous from that point of view over the last two weeks in preparing for this game on Saturday.”
“I think Jimmy nailed it,” Zusi said. “As a player, you’ve got to do what got you here. There’s plenty of distractions going along, but just kidding. I think we need to be extremely focused about ourselves. In saying that, it’s extremely exciting, to have this event in our home city. It’s a reward for ourselves and our fans about what we did this season.”
If Sporting KC can keep that focus, this MLS Cup final could be one for the ages.