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Sporting KC’s Last Ten: A possible path to glory?

Annual drive for home playoff match looks brightest in five seasons. Yet... But...

Thad Bell

Two. One. Two. Two. Unknown.

Close, but (insert your cliché here).

The story of Sporting Kansas City’s endeavor to obtain their first home playoff game since 2013’s run to the MLS Cup Championship is one of, well, damn-near tragedy.

In MLS’s 34-regular season games, 23-team setup, the top six placers in each conference make the playoffs, but only the top four are guaranteed to host a playoff match, with the 3rd and 4th place teams hosting the 6th and 5th place teams, respectively, in a single-elimination match.

It is a too-well-known, probably too-repeated, fact that Sporting Kansas City has missed being that 4th place team (and subsequently been eliminated in the away playoff match) for four straight seasons. Two, One, Two, and Two more are the paltry number of points Sporting KC needed in each of those seasons to earn 4th place and the coveted home playoff contest.

Even more sought after is the rest and recovery afforded by a first-round playoff bye, earned by at least a second-place finish in the conference. The last time Sporting Kansas City achieved that was 2013.

And, yes, home-field advantage is indeed an advantage as home teams have gone 65-23-16 in the playoffs from 2012 through 2017. However, when the higher seeded team’s home-field advantage is analyzed, the impact lessens, as teams with the home-field advantage have won 37 of the 60 playoff matchups, or 62 percent, within. A happy advantage for certain, but far from a sure thing.

What results does Sporting Kansas City likely need to nab the 4th place home playoff match? What results will procure the more valuable 2nd place finish, first-round bye, and home-field advantage?

Table A below helps illustrate.

Conference Home Playoff Finishes v Sporting KC Finishes

Season Conference 2nd place pts. Sporting KC pts. 4th place pts.
Season Conference 2nd place pts. Sporting KC pts. 4th place pts.
2013 58 58 51
2014 55 49 50
2015 53 51* 51
2016 58 47 48
2017 53 49 50
* SKC 5th due to Goal Diff.

On average, the 4th place team in Sporting KC’s Western Conference (including 2013 & 2014 when they were in the East) has needed 50 points. Currently, Kansas City sits in second place at 42 points with ten matches remaining. Thus, a slim eight points are likely necessary to procure a home playoff match.

Referencing the chart, keeping a hold on second place has traditionally required as many as 58 points and as few as fifty-three. Since point totals are trending a little higher than average in 2018, 57 points will be the target. Thus, Sporting Kansas City likely needs 15 more points to cement at least a 2nd place finish.

With 10 matches remaining (5 home, 5 away), 15 points is not a Mt. Everest to be climbed. The home and away schedule, as expected, are dominated by Western conference opponents all still battling for either their playoff lives or playoff positioning, with only one Eastern conference team on the docket in both. Figuring two points per game average at home (as is Sporting KC’s current rate) and the old adage of gaining a draw (1 point per game – SKC is averaging 1.5 now) on the road being the goal, the results needed for a 2nd place finish materialize. A record of 4-3-3 overall, broken down somewhat randomly into 3-1-1 at home and 1-2-2 on the road, is likely enough. Four wins and three draws in the last ten against strong but not necessarily elite opponents (no Atlanta United, no NYCFC, no New York Red Bulls, yet a surging Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas on the road and RSL, LA Galaxy, and LAFC at home) seems doable.

Yet, this:

Sporting KC Last ten matches 2013-2017

Season SKC Wins-Losses-Draws Points
Season SKC Wins-Losses-Draws Points
2013 6-3-1 19
2014 2-7-1 7
2015 3-5-2 11
2016 3-3-4 13
2017 3-4-3 12
2018 TBD TBD

Yes. Only once in the last five seasons has Sporting Kansas City gained 15 or more points in their last ten contests. And that abysmal 2014 stretch… wow.

Yes. It is well-documented that Kansas City has had a poor stretch at some point late in each of the last handful of seasons. “Sporting flat” - in contrary to the club’s focus on being Sporting fit - some have dubbed it. Whatever the cause, the daring hope is that this season’s recent drop in form (0-4-1, 8 GF, 14GA) from June 30-July 28 is the only swoon for the 2018 season.

In history, and often times in battle, past is prologue. Yet, this Sporting Kansas City team is different.

The quality of depth has improved markedly as any one of the three more-seasoned homegrowns in Gianluca Busio, Wan Kuzain Wan Kumal, or Jaylin Lindsey, or experienced and effective veterans like Gerso Fernandes, Andreu Fontas, Seth Sinovic, Diego Rubio, Yohan Croizet, or Krisztian Nemeth could be substitutes coming off the bench to maintain or change the tide of a critical match or of a playoff game. That substitute flexibility and strength is in sharp contrast to the subs in last year’s 1-0 extra-time playoff lost at Houston Dynamo: a relatively unproven Daniel Salloi, a summer-window signee in Cristian Lobato, back Saad Abdul Salaam, and a soon-jettisoned, veteran of one MLS contest Kevin Oliveira.

Two designated players in Felipe Gutierrez and Croizet were added to the roster, in addition to TAM players like Johnny Russell before the season began. And recent-signee Fontas will provide the backline and perhaps defensive midfield La Liga experience and needed depth. More money has been spent for money players. And money time is here.

After a rash of injuries that contributed to the late-June and July swoon, players have returned or are nearing return and the near full roster of available players has been a boon Manager Peter Vermes’ side. Vermes stated on Tuesday that forward Khiry Shelton is “close to being back” and that back/midfielder Brad Evans will be training in another week.

And this side is not as susceptible to goal scoring droughts as past teams. At 45 goals in 24 games, Sporting KC is well on their way to eclipsing the 48 goals scored in 2014 and 2015 and has been shutout only five times, as opposed to nine times at this point last season.

Furthermore, proof of a strong finish (or at least one strong enough) this season can be found in results earlier in the season, in wins in the last two road games, in last Saturday’s 3-0 home dominance of a depleted and weary, yet dangerous Portland Timbers side, and in three shutouts in the last three games.

It seems that Sporting Kansas City and its fans will gather at Children’s Mercy Park at some point in November for a party that will hopefully ignite a deep playoff run, the first since 2013. If past is indeed prologue, it could be a fun November and December in Kansas City. Tech N9ne, please stay by your phone.