Sporting KC MLS Playoffs – Wild Card Round
Who: Sporting Kansas City (12-14-8, No. 8 seed, 44 pts) vs San Jose Earthquakes (10-10-14, No. 9 seed, 44 pts)
When: Wednesday, Oct. 25 | 8:30 p.m. CT (8:39 kickoff)
Where: Children’s Mercy Park| Kansas City
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Sporting Kansas City (12-14-8, No. 8 seed) opens post-season play when they host the San Jose Earthquakes (10-10-14, No. 9 seed) at 8:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Children’s Mercy Park. The Conference Wild Card matches are single-elimination and will be determined by a penalty shootout if the match is tied at the end of 90 minutes. The winner of Western Conference Wild Card match will advance to play number one seed St. Louis in a Best-of-3 Series set to begin this Sunday.
Sporting KC and the Earthquakes ended the season with the same number of points but Kansas City prevailed in the standings with more wins. Kansas City has a slightly better goal differential with a negative three (48 GF/ 51 GA) compared to San Jose’s negative four (39 GF/43 GA).
San Jose’s offense is led by DP Cristian Espinoza with 13 goals and 13 assists. Jeremy Ebobisse is their other scoring threat with 10 goals and 4 assists.
Sporting KC’s offense is more evenly spread out with Alan Pulido (14 goals, 3 assists), Daniel Salloi (7 goals, 9 assists), Erik Thommy (5 goals, 11 assists) and captain Johnny Russell (8 goals, 3 assists).
The two teams can be contrasted in form as well. Sporting KC started bad, historically bad. Going winless 0-7-3 in their first ten games and only scoring three goals in that time, including a 3-0 loss in San Jose. The three points earned were 0-0 draws. Since then, SKC has been one of the better teams with a 12-7-5 record. Still some inconsistent play but a steadily improving form over that time.
San Jose were a respectable 4-3-3 after their first ten matches but have gone 6-7-11 since the early part of the season. In their last ten matches, the Earthquakes are 1-3-6 with five of the draws a 1-1 scoreline.
Coach thoughts on the opponent:
“San Jose has responded incredibly well to their new coach this year and they play with a high level of competitiveness,” Peter Vermes explained. “They can play with the ball and they’re also really good in the counter, so they are very tough opponent for us. Some very key figures in the group, Espinoza is a wonderful winger in this league, plays at a very high quality and high level. I have a lot of respect for his game. I think Ebobisse has found a place in San Jose, he really has. He plays with a chip on his shoulders, he plays hard, he gets in behind teams. If he has to, he can play with the ball, he’s brave. It’s a very tough opponent for us and I think our guys know it. But, you know, we also can do a little bit too.”
“What’s changed about us is personnel, level of confidence, we’ve gotten much better defensively. I just think we’re more organized. When you start getting the results, you start to get confident, the belief comes, it’s solidified in what you’re doing and those things help immensely for any team. The other thing is we’ve also had to scratch, bite and claw to get our way back into where we’re at. I think there’s a there’s a level of hardness with the group as well.”
When asked if that gives him faith the team can make a run in the playoffs, Vermes responded, “I think we’re ready for this game that we’re playing. That’s what I said. I think we’re ready for this game. How we progressed through the season, what we’ve had to deal with. Another thing too is a lot of participation from a lot of players throughout this season that sometimes you don’t know if you get that chance where you get that experience. There’s a lot of guys that have and so you look at the contributions from different people. If you look at our lineup against Real Salt Lake and then you go with our lineup to this last game, there’s a lot of change.”
San Jose’s last win in Kansas City was in August of 2015. Since late 2016, Sporting has gone 9-2-3 against San Jose and 6-0-1 mark at Children’s Mercy Park. This season Sporting KC fell 3-0 in April at San Jose during their SKC’s terrible run of form. The result was repaid on August 26th when Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell and Erik Thommyall scored in the first match out of the Leagues Cup break.
Sporting KC and San Jose last met in the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2020. In a crazy match, a 3-3 draw saw both teams scoring before the other would level and then take the lead. It included two stoppage time goals, but the most amazing part came in the penalties. Tim Melia stopped three straight attempts to claim a 3-0 win in the shootout.
Sporting Kansas City
DEF – Kortne Ford (Achilles Surgery)
DEF – Tim Leibold (Groin Injury)
DEF – Kayden Pierre (Hamstring Injury)
DEF – Jake Davis (Knee Sprain)
MID – Erik Thommy (Calf Injury)
FWD – Alan Pulido (Foot Injury)
FWD – Johnny Russell (Groin Injury)
Note: All of SKC’s questionable players did appear in practice.
Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant ref: Cameron Blanchard
Assistant ref: Logan Brown
4th official: Mark Allatin
VAR: Armando Villarreal
Chapman was the center official for two Sporting KC matches this year. A 0-0 draw in Colorado in March where he gave Colorado 2 yellows and just one to Sporting KC. He was also the official for SKC’s 2-1 win over St. Louis in September. SKC earned three yellows (two for time wasting) compared to just two for the visitors. Chapman has not issued a red card this season.