The Full 90

Sporting KC back in first place, back in Supporter's Shield race

Updated: 2013-07-15T15:08:07Z

Charles Gooch

The Kansas City Star

If you haven't already after this weekend, go ahead and take a look at the current MLS table. I'll wait.

Right away, you'll notice the big thing: Sporting Kansas City currently sit atop the Eastern Conference with 33 points. That's what earning 11 points in five games can do for you.

Now, being in first place on July 15th doesn't mean all that much. Not when Montreal has two games in hand (though, did you see the beating they took on Saturday? 4-0 at the hands of New York). And not when the schedule takes a tough turn over the next four weeks.

But for a team that has struggled at times this season (especially at home) and still hasn't been consistent, it's an awfully good place to be if you're Sporting Kansas City.*

*The pessimist could say: "Imagine what the table would've looked like if KC hadn't dropped points against D.C. United or had managed to score just once against New England/Chicago in March." You've gotta love pessimists. They can kill any buzz.

The second thing to notice is that Sporting KC are the only Eastern Conference team with a double-digit goal differential (+10) and a positive road goal differential (+2).

In the grand scheme of things -- since MLS counts goals for* as the first tiebreaker -- goal differential isn't exactly vital. But it does illustrate that Kansas City tends to score more goals than it allows. There are a lot of stats out there, but they don't get simpler than a team that scores more than its opponents does very well. Kansas City is currently doing that better than the rest of its conference. (The three teams with a double digit goal differential? Salt Lake, Portland and Kansas City. The three teams with the most points in the league. Hmmm.)

*Kansas City is tied for fourth in the league in goals, just three off the pace. The team is also just starting to discover its goal-scoring form this season too. Over the last four games, the squad is averaging just under 2 goals per game. Over the first 16 matches, that stat was a mere 1.25 goals per game. On the other side of the pitch, KC are one of five teams that have allowed fewer than 20 goals this year too.

Just for fun, here's the excellent one-touch sequence goal that sealed the match this weekend.

The third thing to notice? Not much separates the group of teams at the top half of the table.

There are five teams within six points of league-leaders Salt Lake.* If you sort the table by points-per-game (a better barometer in a league with an uneven amount of games played thus far), there are 10 teams averaging more than 1.50 points-per-game. (By points per game, Kansas City are currently fourth in the league 0.20 behind Salt Lake -- who they play this weekend.)

*Though, if you paid attention the Real Salt Lake thrashing of Dallas (without a handful of key players), you might not think the Supporter's Shield race is not that wide open anymore.

If you look down below the playoff line, you'll see that the Seattle Sounders have a few games in hand and are six points out of the playoff race. Colorado (27 points, 1.35 ppg) and New England (24 points, 1.33 ppg) are a small hot streak away from contention too.

That's 13 teams realistically in the hunt for the playoffs; ten of them still alive in the Suppporter's Shield race.

Last week on the Kick The Ball podcast, the gang talked about realistic expectations. I posited that in a league this full of parity, the MLS Supporter's Shield and MLS Cup races were still wide open.

Sporting KC is right in the mix for both and the next three matches will go along way toward determining how much in the mix KC will be at the end of the season.

Starting this Saturday, KC will travel to all-might Real Salt Lake (9 p.m., KSMO). After that, it's the rubber match against Montreal (in Montreal) and the New York Red Bulls come to town after the All-Star Game.

There's no better way to prove you belong at the top of the table than by performing well against the teams up there with you.

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