Sporting Kansas City have it all to do -- and then some -- trailing 2-0 at half-time of what is essentially an 180-minute match with the Houston Dynamo.
The Kansas City Star
It's not that there wasn't someone flashing the warning signs before hand. Whatever, all of the alarms and signs are flashing now.
Unless KC can overturn those two Dynamo goals (or do one better and get three), this remarkable season will end on Wednesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park. The game is at 8 p.m.
But, that's the way it goes when you get to the playoffs in a parity-focused league. While MLS added the carrot that the team who qualifies for the MLS Cup with the best regular season record gets to host the final, it dangled that carrot over a deep, dark chasm. Seriously: What's the benefit of finishing with the best record when you have to go on the road first and away goals don't count?*
*For the record, I hate the away goals rule. I think it encourages negative play. But I also equally hate a two-leg playoff series that doesn't give the higher-seeded team a noticeable advantage (well, other than getting to have the potential extra time and penalty kick shootout at home).
How parity-focused in the league? From 2004 to 2010, a top-seeded team (either the Supporter's Shield winner or a conference winner) has fallen in the semifinals (until this year, the first round) of the playoffs.
Here's the list: The '04 Columbus Crew (Supporter's Shield winer), '05 San Jose Earthquakes (Supporter's Shield winner), '06 FC Dallas (Western Conference winner), '07 D.C. United (Supporter's Shield winner), '07 Chivas USA (Western Conference winner), '08 Houston Dynamo (Western Conference winner), '09 Columbus Crew (Supporter's Shield winner) and '10 New York Red Bulls (Eastern Conference winner).
Last year (when both Sporting KC and Los Angeles advanced to the conference finals) was the first time since 2003 (8 years) that both No. 1 seeds stayed alive.
But, this morning, that just sounds like a writer trying to make excuses for the team's poor play. There are no excuses for yesterday.*
*Peter Vermes didn't make excuses after the game: "We didn't play well enough. It was simple."
We've only got a few leftovers from this game (it wasn't a very good meal and you really don't want to re-heat them anyway) for you today. Here goes.
• The best road team in MLS (8 wins, 5 draws, 4 losses), just got thumped on the road
• to a Houston side that hasn't lost a single match at BBVA Compass Stadium.
• The best defense in MLS (27 goals allowed in the regular season), got shredded by Houston.
• Kansas City is 1-11-0 when allowing the first goal during the playoffs. They are 2-13-3 all-time on the road in the playoffs.
• The team with the most shots in MLS this season finished a 90-minute match with exactly one shot on target.
• Meanwhile, Houston have now scored four goals on four shots on target against KC in their last two playoff matches.
• While KC's defense didn't have the greatest of games, there ain't a whole lot you can do with this Adam Moffat shot.
• This team needs injured midfielder Paulo Nagamura to return to the lineup: His tenacity, experience and instincts were sorely missing. KC is simply not as good defensively when he's not in the midfield with Julio Cesar and Roger Espinoza.
• After the game, Vermes gave his summary of the game.
"I'd say the game started out OK, I think the heat got to us a little bit. Obviously, them getting the first goal twenty minutes in changed the game a little bit. They did a very good job in the first half of every time we won the ball just basically getting numbers around us either they won the ball, or they fouled us. It broke the rhythm of the game very quickly, and this way they always got eleven players behind the ball. Slowed the game down for them every time we won it. They did a good job on the counter, especially on the second one to get that. In the end, it's halftime. We're getting ready for the second half now."
• Houston followed the same fundamental game plan (clog the middle, make KC play at Houston's speed, move the ball quickly beyond KC's line of confrontation, isolate C.J. Sapong, get men behind the ball by whatever means necessary, and play into the channels between the fullback and central defenders on counter attacks) that has led them to a five-game unbeaten run against KC.
• The Dynamo are the only team left in the MLS playoffs who beat KC this season. The. Only. Team.
• But, like Vermes said, this is only "halftime."
• Kansas City needs, ideally, three goals on Wednesday night to win outright.
• In 2012, Sporting KC scored three times in one regular season game just three times: Once at home (New England in March) and twice in Canada (3-1 in Vancouver in April and 3-1 in Montreal in July).
• A 2-0 win would tie the aggregate series and send the match on Wednesday into two 15-minute periods of extra time followed by a penalty kick shootout if necessary.
• KC have had a two-goal game AND a clean sheet at home only three times this year: 3-0 vs. New England, 2-0 vs. Toronto (June 16) and 2-0 vs. Chicago (Sept. 28).
• Of course, as Kevin Garnett once articulated: Anything is possible.
• Everyone says the hardest lead to defend is a 2-goal lead. (Is it? I don't know, but that's what everyone says.)
• What's more, Kansas City knows that Houston will bunker down and hope to limit the damage to a goal or less. That strategy could give KC a chance to attack for 90-minutes. At home. In front a desperate, fervent and chaotic crowd.
• There, this ended with a bright side.