Hot at the right time, Sporting KC face Quakes in wild-card affair

League: MLS

Posted on: 24 Oct, 2023 at 10:41 PM

Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a historic surge to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs, Sporting Kansas City will host the San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference wild-card match Wednesday night in Kansas City, Kan.

Sporting KC (12-14-8, 44 points) became the first club in MLS history to reach the playoffs after starting the season winless in its first 10 matches. They managed just three goals in those 10 matches (0-7-3).

But coach Peter Vermes' club has been playing well, especially since they exited the Leagues Cup in early August. They've won six of their last nine matches.

Since the start of May, Kansas City has been the most dominant team in the West, leading the conference in points (41), wins (12) and goals per game (1.88).

Alan Pulido leads SKC with 14 goals. Johnny Russell scored two in the regular-season finale, a 3-1 win over Minnesota United.

SKC are ready for a tough opponent in San Jose (10-10-14, 44 points).

"They play with a high level of competitiveness," Vermes said Tuesday. "They can play with the ball and are also really good on the counter. It's a very tough opponent for us, and I think our guys know.

"But we can do a little bit, too, and that has to be brought from our side of the game."

San Jose went into Decision Day as one of three teams in control of its own destiny. A victory over Austin in San Jose would guarantee a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2020. A draw or a loss would leave room for disappointment.

San Jose took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Cristian Espinoza in the 17th minute, but Austin drew even in the 32nd minute on an equalizer by Owen Wolff. Despite outshooting Austin 20-4, the Quakes were unable to notch the go-ahead goal.

But with Portland's loss, San Jose was able to claim the ninth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We are not over-celebrating anything," San Jose coach Luchi Gonzalez said. "We were unlucky not to score, but I'm proud of my guys to push it and show a winning mentality and winning actions.

"Being over the (playoff) line is a great validation to the team, the staff, and the fans' hard work and desire to get better. I see a lot of progress. We want to take it to the next step, and we have the opportunity. This is a league where there are always upsets in playoffs and we need to answer the question now of whether we want to be one of those teams."

--Field Level Media