KANSAS CITY, Kansas -- Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said he expected the Western Conference finals loss to Portland Timbers to have a galvanizing effect on his team next season.
The Timbers prevailed 3-2 on the night after last Sunday's first leg in Portland finished scoreless, and they will now face Atlanta United in the MLS Cup final on Dec. 8.
"I remember years ago, playing Houston here at home. We won 1-0, but we didn't score enough, so we lost [the series]," he said. "Today, it feels a little bit like that, that game. It's going to be hopefully a motivating factor going into next year because we have a lot of different things that we're involved in, especially [CONCACAF] Champions League to start off right away. We've just got to see where it goes."
That said, Vermes feels his team took some big steps forward this season, including finishing the regular season on top in the Western Conference.
"I think the guys accomplished a lot this year. They evolved as a team," he said. "They played very well. It was an enjoyable group to coach on a daily basis. We've got a lot more ahead of us, and we're in a good direction. I'm proud of them and I appreciate the work that they gave the club and the city over the course of this year because they were good."
Vermes blamed a lack of midfield pressure in critical moments for the loss.
Timbers star Diego Valeri did plenty of damage in scoring two goals, but it was fellow Argentine Sebastian Blanco who stole the show. Blanco had a hand in all three Portland goals, including a 33-yard thunderbolt in the 52nd minute. That strike, one in which Blanco evaded the attention of SKC midfielder Roger Espinoza, tied the match 1-1, but put Portland ahead on aggregate thanks to the away goals rule. The goal turned the momentum of the match in the visitors' favor and they never gave it up.
"It's a great goal by Blanco, but you should never have the chance to hit a ball from that distance with that kind of pressure," Vermes said. "We had no pressure on him at all."
Up to that point, Kansas City was in control thanks to Daniel Salloi's 20th minute goal. But the home side was unable to build on its lead. And after Blanco drew Portland level, he helped put them ahead in the 61st minute. Blanco's chip set up Jeremy Ebobisse for an attempt on goal, and while SKC keeper Tim Melia saved the initial shot, Valeri was on hand to nod home the rebound to put Portland ahead 2-1.
After Gerso Fernandes scored in the 81st minute to tie things up on the night, Portland's two away goals meant SKC still needed one more to win the two-game series. The home side put all kinds of pressure on the Portland goal, but then nine minutes into stoppage time, Blanco sprung Diego Chara on a counter, with the Colombian setting up Valeri's second goal of the night.
"We definitely had some chances," Vermes said. "We just couldn't finish it off."
Kansas City is renowned for its defensive tenacity, but it went missing on each of Portland's first two goals.
"I just think that we sat back too much and gave too much time on the ball, on both [the first two] goals," said Vermes. "The third one I'm not even counting; I'm talking about the [first] two. We just didn't get out to the guys like we normally do. They just didn't, and they gave too much time on the ball. I think the [first] goal caught Melia by surprise. It was a great hit. I'm not denying that part of it. But congratulations to Portland. They came and they played hard, they took their chances and played well."
Vermes added that it wasn't his intention for SKC to sit back in the second half and protect its lead; quite the opposite in fact.
"We still wanted to stay on the front foot," he said. "We looked at the game as being 0-0, we still needed to win, so we've got to try to win the second half again. Like I said, when you don't get pressure out on players that are good, they wind up being great players. In situations, especially the second goal too, how that guy has the chance to chip the ball from there over us, that's not the norm with us."