Momentum is an oft-used word in sports circles, and that’s no exception within the Sporting Kansas City staff, but its true impact isn’t easily measured. What qualifies as momentum? And does an MLS championship contender really need it heading into the playoffs?
Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the numbers you prefer to use.
Such as this one: Over the past 10 seasons, only two MLS Cup champions posted winning records in the final month of the regular season. (The 2013 Sporting KC championship team was one of the two.)
Or this one: All of the previous eight MLS Cup champions have earned more points per match over the final 10-game stretch of the season than they did prior to it.
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The two statistics tell an opposite story. Which one matters?
“It’s not just about the results — it’s about the way you play,” Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber said following a match earlier this season. “If you’re in a good rhythm of playing heading into the playoffs, you’re probably going to play well once you get there. If you’re struggling, it’s going to be hard to turn it around in the playoffs because you’re obviously playing against the best teams in the league.”
Sporting KC would be advised to start its ascent now. The club faces Colorado on Wednesday at Sporting Park before hosting the LA Galaxy on Sunday in the regular season finale, which will be broadcast on ESPN.
With a victory Wednesday, Sporting KC would clinch its fifth consecutive playoff berth. But its goal over the final five days is more than points. It wants to peak — er, gather momentum — heading into the postseason.
“You have to be a little lucky,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “... You have to have a couple of things clicking for you. You have to be healthy; you have to have good fitness at the end of the season; you have to be able to defend well; and you have to be in a confident state to score goals, as well.”
Some of that, of course, is out of the team’s control — namely, the health aspect. Sporting KC has battled key injuries throughout the season, and captain Matt Besler left Friday’s loss in San Jose with an ankle injury that has him questionable for Wednesday’s tilt with Colorado.
On a more positive note, midfielder Roger Espinoza (foot) and Ike Opara (Achilles’) have rejoined the team’s training sessions in limited-contact roles. Soni Mustivar (hip) and Kevin Ellis (ankle) also appear on track to play this week after missing Friday’s match in San Jose.
In other words, Sporting KC might be on the verge of checking off one the items on the momentum list — health.
“(We’re) putting the best group out on the field that’s healthy and obviously trying to get guys back,” Vermes said. “We’ve been dinged up for a long time. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year long — that’s getting the next guy ready.”