On an evening in mid-April, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., provided the setting for a career-best performance from Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia. He stopped six shots, one of them a penalty kick off the foot of the league’s top scorer, serving as the catalyst for a 2-0 victory.
Some 167 days later, the result remains Sporting KC’s most recent road triumph.
The relevance: With only four games left in its MLS regular season, the team’s playoff hopes will almost certainly be decided outside of Children’s Mercy Park.
Sporting KC occupies the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The next three matches will take place away from its home stadium — starting with Saturday’s trip to San Jose, a 9:30 p.m. kickoff.
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“These games are all going to be battles. They’re true battles,” coach Peter Vermes said. “Every player in the league knows what’s at stake at the moment, and they’re all trying to give everything they have.”
A year after sealing its postseason fate on the final day of the regular season, Sporting KC’s opportunity to avoid another stressful final few weeks faded with back-to-back home draws against Houston and the LA Galaxy.
So on to the road it goes. Sporting KC won its first two away matches this season — both shutouts — but it is 0-8-4 in the 12 road games since. For the season, the club has accumulated 0.71 points per road match, compared to 1.88 points per home game.
If those numbers stay in a similar range over the final month, Sporting KC will finish the season with 44 points. Using the same formula for other teams in contention, seventh-place Seattle is on pace for 43 points. Eighth-place San Jose is on pace to finish with 41.
San Jose and Sporting KC will meet Saturday and then again on Oct. 23 to close out the regular season — the only remaining match at Children’s Mercy Park.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at (the standings). We know it,” forward Jacob Peterson said. “But at the end of the day, if we take care of business, we’re in.”
The formula requires Sporting KC to garner at least a couple of points over the three remaining away matches — San Jose, New England and Real Salt Lake.
Such results used to come much easier to the club. From 2011 to 2015, Sporting KC won 28 road matches.
The disparity in road victories comes from the disparity in lockdown defensive performances. Sporting KC has just one shutout in its five-month road winless streak, and it has allowed seven goals over the past three road tilts.
“I think the first thing is we have to keep the zero,” Peterson said. “We talked about it a lot this year, and we haven’t done it. We really have to be good defensively.”