Already holding the U.S. Open Cup with two fists, could Sporting Kansas City be heading for one of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history?
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City is 13-7-4 with 43 points through 24 games (good for a 1.79 points-per-game average) and challenging for two more trophies this season -- the Supporter's Shield (awarded for most regular season points) and the MLS Cup.
With 10 games to go in the Major League Soccer season, Sporting KC is on pace to eclipse its win (13) and point (51) totals from 2011 -- when they finished atop the Eastern Conference and came within one game of a third MLS Cup appearance in franchise history. And that has them very much alive in the race for the two remaining trophies.*
*No team in league history has ever completed the domestic treble -- winning all three in the same season -- but four teams have come close: D.C. United in '97 (Supporter's Shield, MLS Cup, Open Cup runner-up), Kansas City in '04 (Open Cup winners, lost Supporter's Shield on a tiebreaker, MLS Cup runner-up), Los Angeles Galaxy in '02 (Supporter's Shield, MLS Cup, Open Cup runner-up) and Chicago Fire in '03 (Supporter's Shield, MLS Cup runner-up, Open Cup winner).
Thus far, the four most-successful years in Kansas City's franchise history:
• 1. 2000: 16-7-9, 57 points, won the Supporter's Shield and MLS Cup.
• 2. 2004: 14-9-7, 49 points, won the U.S. Open Cup, fell short of the Supporter's Shield on a tiebreaker, lost the MLS Cup on a controversial D.C. United goal.
• 3. 1997: 21-11, 49 points, suffered a first-round loss in MLS Cup playoffs.
• 4. 2011: 13-9-12, 51 points, won Eastern Conference, lost in Eastern Conference final to Houston.
While Sporting Kansas City likely won't challenge the franchise record for wins in a season of 21* (more on this in a second), the points record of 57 (set in the championship season of 2000) is very much in play. The silverware too.
*I mean, technically, it could happen. But that would require nine wins out of the last 10 matches.
What's more: Kansas City is also perilously close to flirting with a 60-point season.
If you extrapolate out KC's current 1.79 points-per-gam over the next 10 matches, that comes out to roughly 60 points (60.9 if we're being exact).
Why is the 60-point threshold important? Only four teams in the history of the league have reached that number. The '98 Los Angeles Galaxy set the all-time mark with an astonishing 68 points (with an even more astonishing 2.13 ppg). The '05 San Jose Earthquakes (64), the '11 Galaxy (67) and the '11 Seattle Sounders (63). are the rest.*
*Yes, that's right, all four teams are West Coast teams. Not sure if that's an anomaly or a coincidence.
A lot of teams have reached the 50-point mark (it's happened 35 times*), but just those four have blasted past the 60-point mark.
*KC has only done it twice: In '00 (57) and '11 (51).
When comparing MLS teams from different eras, I usually like to split the history of the league into three different categories:
• The Shootout Years ('96-'99): There were no ties and a shootout win earned a team one point. Which makes comparisons of points and wins very difficult. Example: During KC's 21-win 1997 campaign, they won SEVEN shootouts. Ostensibly, those would've counted as ties under the current rules. Which would mean only 14 wins that year.
• The In-Between/Formative Years ('00-'04): The MLS was just starting to resemble what it is now (the shootout died, for starters), and the league was changing structure (for two years it was a 12-team, three-conference league) and game schedules (32 in '00, 26/27 in '01* and 28 in '02). Even though this era included Kansas City's glory years (the Supporter's Shield/MLS Cup double in '00 and the Open Cup in '04), it's the hardest era to judge because of the schedule fluctuation, shallow talent pool and shifting teams (in 2004 the league had just 10 teams owned by just three men -- Lamar Hunt, Philip Anschutz and Robert Kraft).
*After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the league abandoned the remaining regular season games and went directly into the playoffs.
• The Modern Era ('05-present): The league began to expand (Chivas and Real Salt Lake in '05; Toronto in '07; San Jose returned in '08; Seattle in '09; Philadelphia in '10; Portland and Vancouver in '11; and Montreal in '12), normalize its season schedule (between 30 and 34 games depending on league size) and grow its talent pool (the designated player rule helped immensely in that regard).
So, if judging exclusively from the "Modern Era," three teams have reached 60 points* and 18 have reached the 50-point mark.
*The 34-game schedule, obviously, is helping this along.
While several teams are doing very well this season, it would be a tough ask to surpass the Galaxy's 67 points last season. (Given the increased talent pool and strength of the league, that "Modern Era" Galaxy season should be the standard by which MLS seasons are judged.)
Here are the teams chasing a 60-point season*:
*This is calculated by taking a team's current "points per game" multiplying it by "games remaining" then adding "current points." Or: (PPG x Games Remaining) + Total Points.
• San Jose (47 points/1.96 ppg/10 games remaining): 66.6 points
• Kansas City (43/1.79/10): 60.9 points
• New York (41/1.71/10): 58.1
• Salt Lake City (42/1.68/9): 57.12
• Houston (40/1.67/10): 56.7
• Chicago (38/1.65/11): 56.15
• Seattle (37/1.61/11): 54.71
• D.C. United (36/1.64/12): 53.28
• Vancouver (37/1.48/9): 50.32
Not accounting for a winning streak here or there, it would appear that just San Jose and Kansas City are in a position to push into 60-plus territory on their current form. The rest would need to better their current points-per-game averages (some extraordinarily) to make that push.
It's also worth mentioning: A 60-point season isn't a great predictor of success in the playoffs. Only once (the 2011 Galaxy) has a team climbed the 60-point mountain AND won the MLS Cup.
I know what you're thinking: What would it take for Kansas City to reach the Galaxy's 67-point season?
That would require earning 24 points (8 wins or 7 wins + 3 draws) over the next 10 games (or, 2.4 points per game).
Those next 10 games include 9 points against New York and 3 apiece against Houston and Chicago.
Sporting certainly has some work to do, but a historic season (in either points, wins or trophies OR all three) is still within the realm of possibility.
At a base level: Surpassing last year's banner season certainly seems highly likely.