KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kansas City coach Peter Vermes has said throughout the buildup to MLS Cup that the two best teams in the league are playing this Saturday.
He doesn’t mean any disrespect to the rest of MLS, but he believes Real Salt Lake and Kansas City are in form and have been two of the more consistent teams throughout the season.
Not surprisingly, the core of each team has been together for a while — and good for a while.
Real Salt Lake has qualified for the MLS playoffs six straight years and is playing in its second MLS Cup in five years. Kansas City, meanwhile, has finished with the best record in the East during two of the last three years and won the 2012 U.S. Open Cup.
“We’ve been together a long time, and I think consistency in our league is one way to get to success,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis. “As I’ve seen in the history of the league since 1996, for me the best teams have always been the teams that have stayed together the longest. Some of that is born about by success, 'cause if you’re not good enough you won’t be staying together very long. I think it’s a circle.”
Ned Grabavoy has been part of RSL's core of success dating back to the start of the 2009 season, and he believes continuity in a club is more important than ever.
“It’s more competitive now than it ever has been that I can remember, so I think it helps to have familiarity with your staff and players, and we’ve certainly had that at Real Salt Lake since I’ve been here,” he said.
Both RSL and Kansas City have won huge matches and lost huge matches, and the players have gone through those battles together and know what to expect on Saturday at Sporting Park.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who’ve been together for a long time now, and have been through every tactical scenario you can put them under, have been in so many big games together, that nothing really fazes them,” said Kreis.
PART OF THE FUN: This week is the Super Bowl of MLS, and along with it comes media distractions.
The volume of interview requests and media attention goes up 10-fold this week, which RSL striker Robbie Findley says is part of the fun.
“It’s the whole experience. This is what makes it so fun being here. You do all this stuff, but once you step on the field that’s when you’ve got to focus,” said Findley.
Friday’s biggest distraction was 30 minutes of media availability at Sporting Park that coincided with the hoopla surrounding the World Cup draw party.
Vermes told his players to soak it all up.
“There is a part of it that’s a reward. You’ve worked this hard to get to this point and this is what comes with it,” said Vermes.
BLUE HELL AWAITS: There are banners hanging behind one of the goals at Sporting Park that say “Welcome to Blue Hell.”
It adds to the intimidation element at Sporting Park, which has featured 35 straight sellouts.
“The stadium is a great set up. The fans are real close to the field. They have great support from all their fans. Like the other great atmospheres in this league, Portland, Seattle, and of course Real Salt Lake in my opinion, the fans are really on you and they get behind their team and that can change momentum,” said RSL defender Chris Wingert.
Vermes said coaching in the electric atmosphere never gets old.
“I come out right after the national anthem every game, and what I’m always amazed about (is) I still get goosebumps when it’s full,” he said.
Kansas City lost five games at home this season, though, which gives underdog Real Salt Lake plenty of hope. Portland, Seattle, Montreal, New York and Philadelphia all won at Sporting Park this year.