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MLS Cup Playoff Math Update: Are Sporting KC Really Still Alive?

Let’s break down the playoff math and see what is on the line for the last six games of Kansas City’s season.

MLS: US Open Cup-Sporting Kansas City at Sacramento Republic FC
Sporting Kansas City forward William Agada (23) reacts after missing a penalty kick before the Sacramento Republic is called for coming off the line too early and he is given an opportunity to kick again at Heart Health Park
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a month and a half since we’ve updated the playoff math for Sporting Kansas City. At that time, there were 13 games to go and we decided they need to roughly win nine of them. They then proceeded to lose three in a row to Real Salt Lake, LAFC and Austin FC, and four of the next five (another loss to Austin). They are 3-5-0 since that time.

Now there are six games to go, and by our prior math, they are already doomed.

In that scenario they needed to end on 49 points. Now, Sporting KC have 29 points with 18 more available. If they win them all, they get to 47 points. Why is that point total important? Well look no further than what the final Western Conference playoff point total (or East when SKC was in the Eastern Conference) was for the last nine seasons:

  • 2021 — 48 points (Real Salt Lake)
  • 2020 — COVID, pass!
  • 2019 — 48 points (FC Dallas)
  • 2018 — 49 points (RSL)
  • 2017 — 46 points (San Jose Earthquakes)
  • 2016 — 46 points (RSL)
  • 2015 — 51 points (Sporting KC)
  • 2014 — 49 points (Sporting KC)
  • 2013 — 49 points (Montreal Impact)

Now, there are two years of 46 points being enough, but a higher percentage of the teams made the playoffs. 48 was the marker for two non-COVID seasons and Sporting can’t get there.

For what it’s worth, in the original story seven games ago, SKC had a five percent chance per, but now are rated at less than one percent.

It’s More Complicated Than That

Now, you may be saying to yourself, it’s not as simple as figuring out how many points made it. Maybe the West is having a down year with LAFC and Austin dominating and the point totals will be lower overall, and that could be true. In fact, two people on Twitter put together some robust spreadsheets on the matter.

First, Blayne Riffle, who’s done guest posts on The Blue Testament, has the team able to finish as high as sixth if everything goes perfect. He’s joined by “Greg” who actually shows SKC as high as 5th.

The charts above shows 44 points, but they later discovered a math error and reach the same 47 point total I have.

The problem with all this is it has to go absolutely perfect. The right team needs to win every game, or lose, or draw. There is a tiny bit of wiggle room where SKC can actually get into the playoffs on 44 points, but look no further than the past decade and you’ll see that simply hasn’t happened for the most part, with one exception.

In 2016, the Eastern Conference did let in two teams (Montreal and Philadelphia Union) with point totals of 45 and 42. But there were six playoff spots per conference and only 10 teams per conference. 60 percent of the league got into the playoffs!

Right now only 50 percent get in (which I think we can all agree is still too high). The closest thing in recent history rivaling that, is 2019 when there were 14 playoff spots for 24 teams (58.3%) and the Eastern Conference New England Revolution qualified on 45 points.

Remaining Schedule

If Sporting KC probably need to win out, let’s look at the last six games.

The team has two road wins all season.


If this is all too much, let’s summarize:

  • Sporting KC don’t control their destiny. They could win out and still not qualify.
  • But, Sporting KC are technically still alive and will remain alive for a bit (D.C. United are seven points behind SKC and still not eliminated).
  • If Sporting KC win out (an incredibly difficult task), they wouldn’t be in bad shape, but things have to fall the right way.

Let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts. However, if they lose any game, it’s time to shift to 2023 preseason mode. I’m not saying play every kid, but don’t play guys that aren’t going to be here next season.

But if they do win out (what will be eight straight wins) and get the help they need, no one will want to face what will undoubtedly be the hottest team in the league. It’s a shame they couldn’t get right a couple weeks earlier.