Monday, September 17, 2012

Sporting's Run In to the Playoffs Isn't an Easy One

Sporting KC is still on top of the East at the moment, but things as a whole are not looking that good for Kansas City's final run in to the end of the season.  In their final 6 games, KC has one of the most difficult schedules in the league as they go towards the end of the season. 

KC has 4 of those 6 games on the road, and while they've had an extremely good road record this year, the road trips coming up are not easy.  Two of those four games are in New York, where the Red Bulls are undefeated, going 10-0-3 (W-L-D).  A third of those four is in Montreal, where the Impact will not only be looking to revenge a 3-1 loss that KC laid on the Impact earlier this season, but with only 2 home games left for them and slim playoff hopes starting to slip away, will be looking to claw their way into the playoffs.  KC's other road game is a trip to Columbus, where KC has already won 2-0 earlier this season, but the addition of Federico Higuain has given the Crew an extra boost and even though they've lost their last two games, will also be fighting for their playoff lives.  Even though KC is 7-4-2 on the road this year (only 1 win less than KC has at home this year), and teams seem to play less conservative against KC on the road, these are 4 places that are difficult to get all 3 points in, especially with all three teams battling for playoff positioning, or their playoff lives.

KC's home schedule isn't exactly easy either.  The aura of invincibility that had been seen at Livestrong Sporting Park last year for a decent period of the season has slowly evaporated, teams have figured out how to hold KC's offense at bay, KC is actually averaging fewer goals per game at home (1.2) than they are on the road where KC averages 1.31 goals per game.  KC has gotten 1 or fewer goals in 9 of 15 league games at Livestrong Sporting Park this season.  Not the type of home form that you want heading into what will likely be two must win home games.  The first is against the Chicago Fire who KC haven't beaten since October of 2010, and who they haven't beaten at home since August 22, 2007. Since then, KC has gone 0-2-4 at home against Chicago, in fact they haven't beaten the Fire since they moved to the Kansas side of the state line.  When the two teams take the field on the 28th at LSP, it will have been 5 years, 1 month and 6 days since KC's last win at home vs Chicago.  And that's not even mentioning the Fire's current hot streak, winning four of their last five, and five of their last seven dating back to the beginning of August.  The second home game, KC's season finale, is on paper the easiest of KC's 6 remaining games, playing against the Philadelphia Union who are likely to be long eliminated from the playoff race by then.

KC can still win the East on their own power, they just have to take care of business themselves.  If they can't they might struggle to get some help, with Chicago having games against Philadelphia and New England, along with 3 games at home, where they haven't lost to an Eastern Conference team since KC beat them back in October of 2010. Meanwhile New York gets to play Toronto, New England, and Philadelphia in their final run up, and has 4 home games, where they're undefeated this season.  The final six games for all 3 of the teams are against the Eastern Conference, and based off of the history this year, it favors Chicago and New York, who are 1-2 in their record against the Eastern Conference.  And while KC took care of the Western Conference, only losing once, their record of 9-6-4 vs the East puts them in 4th place in the conference in that list.

I have little doubt that KC will make the playoffs this year, and the teams form lately has been pretty good, unbeaten in 6 league games, 7 in all competitions, but this last stretch is going to be extremely difficult, with half of their remaining games against teams that are immediately below them in the table.  Now is the time of the season usually when a team gets hot and makes a deep run in the playoffs.  KC is doing quite well right now, but need to get a little hotter, start putting more of these 28 shots, 9 shots on goal into the net and start turning some of these single points into three points.  If KC can finish at the top of the East after these final 6 games and clinch home field advantage up to MLS Cup (depending on if San Jose make it to MLS Cup or not), KC would have to be considered one of the heavy favorites for the cup.

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