Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City can clinch playoff spot at Houston

Updated: 2013-10-09T04:46:57Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

The next goal for Sporting Kansas City can be accomplished today, and where better to put a check in a box than Houston.

Sporting can clinch a spot in the MLS playoffs with a victory at Houston, and a triumph also keeps the team alive for the Supporters’ Shield, the award given to the team with the best regular-season record based on the points system.

“When it’s right there in front of you, you’ve got to go for it,” Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said.

And when Houston stands in the path, all the more incentive. The Dynamo has knocked Sporting from the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons.

“It’s always big when we play Houston,” Nielsen said. “Games against them are intense, and they usually can go either way.”

That’s been the case in two regular-season games. Sporting won at Houston 1-0 on May 12, a game that snapped the Dynamo’s MLS-record 36-game home undefeated streak. The teams played to a 1-1 draw two weeks later in Kansas City.

Since then, they’ve been battling at or near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, where New York leads with 53 points. The Red Bulls have already clinched a postseason spot.

Sporting, with 51 points, has played one fewer game than New York, giving it control of its fate for the Eastern crown. Third-place Houston has 47 points.

Nielsen likes what he’s seen from Sporting in recent weeks, especially on the road. The 1-0 victory at Columbus last weekend made it two straight victories away from Sporting Park.

In between was a 1-0 home loss to Philadelphia, a game in which Sporting missed several scoring chances and outshot the Union.

“I think we’re playing well, and I include that game against Philadelphia,” Nielsen said. “We played well enough to win. You couldn’t ask for more, except for a few goals of course.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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