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Sporting Kansas City: From long-shots to playoff-bound

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Sporting Kansas City: From long-shots to playoff-bound

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Despite several obstacles at the beginning of the campaign, Sporting Kansas City punched their ticket to MLS Cup playoffs on Decision Day.

The Western Conference team were winless through their first 10 MLS games in 2023, and all hope looked lost for them to return to the postseason. After all, when have teams in sports lost a double-digit amount of games to start the season and end up fighting for glory?

However, several players stepped up in the business end of the campaign to secure their place in the playoffs after missing out last season. With a stunning 4-1 display at St Louis CITY, who knows how far they could go in the playoffs…

Alan Pulido

Pulido was back to his best in 2023 / Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Alan Pulido missed the entire 2022 campaign with a knee injury, and he didn’t feature this season until early April, one of the reasons for Kansas City’s struggles.

Once the veteran forward was deemed fit enough to start games, he began to make his mark and wound up tallying 14 goals as well as three assists, earning a new deal with the club through the 2026 MLS season.

In a seven-game stretch during the summer, Pulido showcased his excellent finishing abilities by finding the back of the net nine times to propel his side up the Western Conference standings. Not only is Pulido ruthless in front of goal, he’s also proven to get in on the playmaking act, as he notched two assists in SKC’s game one win over St Louis at CITYPARK.

Should the Mexico international stay fit and firing, he could add to his impressive scoring record with Kansas City as the postseason unfolds.

Peter Vermes

Peter Vermes turned things around for SKC / Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Peter Vermes has been in the dugout for Kansas City since 2009, and has guided the team to several pieces of silverware such as three US Open titles in 2012, 2015 and 2017 as well as MLS Cup in 2013.

After missing the postseason in his first two years in charge, Vermes went on to guide his side to eight straight playoff appearances before missing out in 2019. The team rebounded by qualifying in 2020 and 2021 before falling short last term. In all, Vermes has orchestrated SKC to the playoffs in 11 of his 14 years at Children’s Mercy Park.

However, after SKC’s horrid start to the 2023 season, it didn’t look like silverware would be on the horizon – let alone be able to make the playoffs and be in the position to fight for titles. But the club chose to stick with Vermes given his impressive track record dating back over a decade, and it has paid off.

Not many were expecting the performance and individual greatness that was displayed at CITYPARK in game one from SKC, and it all leads back to Vermes and the club weathering the storm and getting back on track. Injuries took a toll on the 2022 season and did for a large portion of the 2023 campaign, but Vermes was determined to guide the team back to where belonged – fighting for titles.

Johnny Russell

Kansas City dug deep at the end of the season / Kyle Rivas/GettyImages

Kansas City were one of MLS’ best sides following their Leagues Cup exit to Toluca and the return of domestic action.

Once they were dumped out of the continental tournament and resumed league action in late August, the team lost just three times, amassing six wins out of nine games played to cap off the season – accumulating 18 out of 27 possible points.

During that period, SKC came away with wins against St Louis CITY at home (2-1), Houston Dynamo (2-1), Real Salt Lake (3-2) and a comfortable 3-1 triumph over Minnesota United to clinch eighth place in the West with 44 points.

Vermes’ side proved they have what it takes to get results down the stretch, as there was pressure from all sides to qualify after how the season began. With plenty of momentum behind them after the game one triumph, Kansas City could advance to the next round and shock the MLS world with a game two victory over St Louis at Children’s Mercy Park on November 5.

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