Monday, September 29, 2014

A Look at Where Sporting's at and Where the Final Month Goes

Sporting Kansas City is limping into the final month of the MLS regular season this year, having lost five of their last six league games (and come on how many people really count a win over Chivas any more). Since the beginning of August, only Colorado (2) and Chivas (1) have picked up fewer points than Sporting KC's 8 points. With that, Sporting has fallen from contenders for the Eastern Conference and for the Supporters' Shield to fighting to make the playoffs. With KC 6 points now behind DC United for first in the East, the defending MLS Cup Champs are closer to missing the playoffs (5 points ahead of 6th place TFC) than they are to winning the East.

Simply a huge drop in form for Sporting in this current stretch. When the month of August started the Eastern Conference looked like this, with Sporting sitting in first place, comfortably ahead of New England, Columbus, Toronto, and New York.

1 Sporting Kansas City 38 21 1.81 11 5 5 31 19 12
2 D.C. United 37 20 1.85 11 5 4 32 20 12
3 New England Revolution 26 21 1.24 8 11 2 28 33 -5
4 Columbus Crew 26 21 1.24 6 7 8 43 36 7
5 Toronto FC 26 19 1.37 7 7 5 27 28 -1
6 New York Red Bulls 25 21 1.19 5 6 10 33 32 1
7 Philadelphia Union 23 21 1.1 5 8 8 33 35 -2
8 Chicago Fire 21 20 1.05 3 5 12 27 33 -6
9 Houston Dynamo 19 20 0.95 5 11 4 22 40 -18
10 Montreal Impact 14 20 0.7 3 12 5 21 37 -16

A month later, and here we sit with that 12 point gap gone and now just two points sit between Sporting and playing in the play-in game for the Eastern Conference.

1 D.C. United 51 30 1.7 15 9 6 46 34 12
2 New England Revolution 45 30 1.5 14 13 3 44 42 2
3 Sporting Kansas City 45 30 1.5 13 11 6 45 37 8
4 Columbus Crew 43 30 1.43 11 9 10 43 36 7
5 New York Red Bulls 41 30 1.37 10 9 11 48 46 2
6 Toronto FC 40 29 1.38 11 11 7 42 45 -3
7 Philadelphia Union 38 30 1.27 9 10 11 45 44 1
8 Houston Dynamo 36 29 1.24 10 13 6 35 50 -15
9 Chicago Fire 31 29 1.07 5 8 16 37 45 -8
10 Montreal Impact 24 30 0.8 6 18 6 34 54 -20

So heading into the final four games of the season, Sporting sits in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference and their magic number to qualify for the playoffs for a 4th year running is 8. The New York Red Bulls have the 6th lowest maximum points of 53, so a combination of eight points picked up and dropped by KC and New York respectively would see KC in the playoffs.

It's not going to be an easy path for Kansas City to pick up those 8 points though. KC's final four opponents are unbeaten against Sporting this year, a combined 5-0-3 against Sporting, including a 2-0-3 record at Sporting Park where two of KC's final four games take place.

The trip month starts this Friday with Sporting KC taking on Conference Leaders DC United. Back at the beginning of August this game was expected to be the Conference deciding game between the two teams. Now DC is looking to move 9 points clear of Sporting and sweep the season series with KC, the same that New England has done. DC is 2-0 this year against KC winning 1-0 in DC in May and 3-0 at Sporting Park in August. And while DC will be without the suspended Perry Kitchen, this is a game that KC doesn't look likely to win.

KC then returns home for another Friday night home game, this time against the rival Chicago Fire. Chicago has a 1-0-1 record against Sporting this year, picking up a 2-1 win at Toyota Park at the height of KC's injury issues earlier this year, and then drawing 1-1 at Sporting Park in July. Chicago could very well be eliminated from playoff contention by the time this game is played as they currently sit 10 points behind 5th place New York, although they have a game in hand. There's also the potential that Sporting could play this game without a few of their international players, with the game falling on a FIFA international break date. So the likes of Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Jorge Claros, and Soony Saad could all miss this game if they're called up for national team duty.

Sporting plays their final road game of the regular season in Philadelphia against the Union. Philadelphia, like Chicago has a 1-0-1 record against KC this year, having won 2-1 at Sporting Park in May and tying 1-1 at Sporting Park in August. Sporting will this time travel to PPL Park where they opened and closed the 2013 regular season with wins and will be looking to make it four straight wins at PPL Park in all competitions. Philadelphia, like Chicago will potentially know their playoff fate by the time this game takes place with them currently in 7th place but only three points behind 5th place New York.

Before Sporting KC close out the regular season at home against New York, Sporting travels to Costa Rica for the final game of the CONCACAF Champions League group stage. KC need to avoid a loss of 2-0 or a loss by more than 2 goals for them to advance out of the group and into the knock out round next February and March (a 3-1 loss sees a drawing of lots for who advances).

After the trip to Costa Rica, Sporting will welcome the New York Red Bulls to Sporting Park to close out the regular season. New York is also 1-0-1 this year against KC, drawing 1-1 in KC in May before beating Sporting KC 2-1 at Red Bull Arena during KC's four game losing streak. The Red Bulls, like Sporting will be busy with a midweek Champions League game, but New York will be playing that game at home and are already eliminated from the competition. Based on how tight the Eastern Conference is right now, there is little chance that this meaningless. At the least I expect this game to be worth seeding positions in the East. A win here could be the difference between the play-in round or not.

So as you can see, the run up to the end of the season is not going to be an easy one. The "easiest" of KC's opponents, Chicago, Sporting is likely going to face without a few players due to international call ups, while the rest will be fighting for playoff position. KC is going to need to figure out their current issues if they want to make noise in the playoffs.

No comments: