The board is a prominent feature inside the Sporting Kansas City locker room, displaying a list of every team in Major League Soccer, sorted by league standing. For the past five seasons, it has shown Sporting sitting above the line that separates the playoff contenders from the clubs making early offseason plans.
On Sunday, as MLS turns the calendar to the second half of the 2016 season, Sporting sits in an unfamiliar position on its own locker room board — below the line.
As Sporting welcomes the Columbus Crew SC to Children’s Mercy Park at 6 p.m. Sunday, it trails the final Western Conference playoff spot by one point. And nobody in the West has played more matches.
“We have to make a push. I think we were lackluster in the first half (of the year), if you will,”” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “But I’m not doing any mathematical equations trying to figure out X, Y and Z (in the standings).”
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The top six teams in each conference qualify for the postseason. Over the last five years, the average sixth-place team has totaled 46.4 points. Over the last three years, that number is 50.3 points. Sporting is on pace for only 41 points this season.
But there is perhaps a silver lining in the club’s second-half hopes — only three teams in the Western Conference are on pace to reach 50 points this season. As of Saturday, the sixth-best club in the West had tallied just 1.35 points per game. Sporting would need to accumulate 24 points over its final 16 matches to hit that mark.
And that would equate to its exact pace last season.
“The second half of the season, this is the most important part of the MLS season — this is when everything really counts,” goalkeeper Tim Melia said. “The first half of the season is done. It didn’t go to plan. I think we lost some points along the way that we should’ve banked early. But that has to be out of our minds.”
Sporting , 6-8-4, has shown signs of swinging things in the right direction. It has earned points in three straight league matches, two of them on the road. And it’s next three games will come against Eastern Conference opponents. Sporting is 14-5-5 against the East since the start of 2014.
But in order to reclaim its form over the past five playoff-bound seasons, Sporting must find better success at Children’s Mercy Park. It has already lost four home matches this season. No team in the West has lost more. Five teams in the West are unbeaten inside their home venue.
“I think everyone can say that the team we were in the first half of the season is not the team we are aspiring to be, and I don’t think it’s the team we will be, especially at home,” forward Jacob Peterson said. “Our last few league games, we’ve been righting the ship. We have to continue that into the summer months, because this is really when a lot of points are picked up and dropped.
“This is our chance to make a move.”