Sporting Kansas City’s playoff hopes are still quite slim, even after their two wins in a row against the San Jose Earthquakes and Minnesota United, fivethirtyeight.com gives Kansas City only a 19% chance of making the playoffs. With seven games left there’s little to no room for error for Kansas City as they close out the season and hope to make the playoffs for the ninth straight year. The first step for Sporting comes this weekend against the Houston Dynamo at Children’s Mercy Park. With the final stretch underway, here are four reasons why Sporting will make the playoffs and four reasons they won’t.
Why Sporting will make the playoffs.
1. All seven of Kansas City’s remaining games are against teams that are within eight points of Kansas City. While Kansas City sit in ninth place on 34 points they finish the season vs Houston (31), at Portland (37), at LA (42), vs Colorado (27), at Minnesota (42), vs Portland (37), at Dallas (40). After Los Angeles FC running away with the West, everything else is close from top to bottom. Ninth place Kansas City is just eight points behind 4th place LA right now so things are tight still in the West.
2. Of Kansas City’s remaining seven games, three games are against the two teams directly between Kansas City and a playoff berth. KC plays three games against the Portland Timbers and FC Dallas in their final seven games. Dallas currently occupies the final playoff spot on 40 points and has played one more game than Kansas City has at this point. Portland meanwhile is in eighth place, but sits three points ahead of Kansas City. Winning all three of these games is an absolute must for Kansas City to make the playoffs.
3. One of the main issues that have plagued Sporting all season has been their health. Multiple times this season Kansas City has had to dress fewer than 18 players for MLS games and one time this season KC was so short on players due to injury that they had to call up Wilson Harris from the Swope Park Rangers to be available on the bench for a game. Kanas City though is finally healthy with only Rodney Wallace (who is out for the season) and Adrian Zendejas (who played Saturday for Swope Park) listed on the injury report at this point. Having a healthy team for the stretch one is something very few teams can say right now.
4. One of the big things that have plagued KC for much of the season has been their penchant to leak goals this year. The once stingy Kansas City defense has been leaking goals a lot in 2019. Over the past few games though the defense has settled down with Graham Smith coming into the middle of defense with Matt Besler. Keeping a strong defense, similar to a level that Kansas City has had in prior seasons is going to be key for Kansas City to make a run to the playoffs.
While there are positives for Kansas City’s ability to make the playoffs, the more likely thing to happen is that Sporting isn’t going to make the playoffs they dug themselves into a hole that they’ll likely be unable to climb out of, here are four reasons why Sporting won’t make the playoffs.
Why Sporting won’t make the playoffs.
1. The center forward position is a position that Kansas City hasn’t gotten much production out of since the club traded Dom Dwyer in the middle of the 2017 season. Since then KC has gone through the likes of Diego Rubio, Khiry Shelton, Krisztian Nemeth, Yohan Croizet, and now Erik Hurtado. Recently the production has been struggling even more. Since Nemeth scored his last goal for Sporting on May 18th against Vancouver, Kansas City have scored four goals from their center forward in the last 17 games across all competitions. Croizet has two of them against LAFC when he came on as a substitute and eventually moved to center forward after Nemeth subbed out and against the Chicago Fire. Hurtado has scored the other two against Seattle and Minnesota.
2. While three of Kansas City’s final seven games are against the two teams directly between them and a playoff berth, the spot really is Portland’s to lose at this point. They’ve played one fewer game (26) than Kansas City, and have two fewer than seventh place Dallas. Portland also has the lowest opponent’s points per game for their remaining schedule at just over a point per game. That’s helped by the fact that Portland plays seven of their final eight games at the friendly confines of Providence Park, with their one road trip, a trip to Kansas City on September 29th. Portland is 5-3-2 currently at home so far this season, so it’s not a great home record, but that 1.7 points per game, if they hold that the rest of the season they’d have 49 points. For Kansas City to surpass that total, they’d have to get 2.14 PPG the rest of the way. So far this year they’ve averaged 1.26 PPG.
3. Speaking of the Timbers, Kansas City’s next game after they play Houston this coming weekend is in Portland on September 7th. Making the playoffs is very much going to be dependent on beating Portland and Dallas in the three games against those two teams. Unfortunately, Kansas City will be going into that game in Portland shorthanded. Kansas City will be missing six players for that game on September 7th, including two starters and four other players that are regularly in the 18. Sporting will be missing their leading scorer in all competitions (Krisztian Nemeth), their leading scorer in league play (Felipe Gutierrez), and their assist leader this season and second leading scorer in league play (Johnny Russell). Those three players alone have a combined 37 goals and assists in league play this season, the rest of the team has a combined 36. Add in Gianluca Busio’s three goals and Nicolas Hasler’s assist, and the rest of the team has scored 10 goals and 22 assists in league play this season. That’s a lot of production that Kansas City is going to need to replace in that game against a team that will have Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, and Brian Fernandez.
4. The tiebreakers are not currently in Kansas City’s favor, meaning a tie on points isn’t going to help KC out. Currently the two teams right in front of Kansas City, Portland and Dallas, both have two more wins (wins are the first tie breaker) than Kansas City, meaning that’s another thing that Kansas City will have to overcome to make the playoffs. The other problem with the tiebreakers for KC is the fact that the second tiebreaker is goal difference, and that’s another area where Kansas City has themselves in a hole. Currently Kansas City is at a -5 goal difference while eighth place Portland is seven goals ahead at +2 and Dallas is 12 goals ahead at +7. What that means is that not only is Kansas City going to have to make up the point gap, and at least equal both teams on wins, and then they’ll need to improve their goal difference while getting assistance from Dallas’ and Portland’s opponents to help make up the goal difference hole that Kansas City is in.
So there are certainly some things to be optimistic about heading into these final seven games, teams have gotten hot before and gone on runs to get into the playoffs. That said, it’s a very steep mountain that Sporting is going to have to climb and with a tight stretch to end the season, there is absolutely zero margin for error. Unfortunately for me, while I think Sporting will make things interesting down the stretch, the hole they dug themselves is too deep to get out of now.