After earning a draw in Real Salt Lake on Sunday, Sporting Kansas City held onto its playoff standing in the Western Conference by the slimmest of margins.
One goal. That’s all that separates sixth-place Sporting KC and seventh-place Portland heading into Sunday, which MLS has dubbed Decision Day.
There will be a lot of moving parts on Decision Day — when Sporting KC plays host to San Jose in the regular season finale — but the primary playoff scenario will be rather simple.
Win, and they’re in.
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“Everything is in our control,” Sporting KC defender Matt Besler told reporters after Sunday’s draw. “That’s really all you can ask for this time of the season.”
Six teams from the Western Conference will qualify for the postseason. The top two clubs (FC Dallas and Colorado) receive byes, with the third seed hosting the sixth seed and the fourth seed hosting the fifth seed in a one-game knockout round. Sporting KC has been eliminated with road losses in the knockout round each of the past two seasons.
Fourth-place Real Salt Lake has 46 points; fifth-place Seattle has 45 points; and Sporting KC and Portland each have 44 points, with Sporting KC owning the tiebreaker because of a better goal differential.
Here’s the good news for Sporting KC: Real Salt Lake and Seattle will play Sunday, making it impossible for both to attain the full three points. So with a victory Sunday, Sporting KC would have 47 points and would be guaranteed to pass at least one of those two teams.
But Sporting KC can actually sneak into the postseason even without a victory in the regular-season finale.
If Sporting KC ties San Jose on Sunday, it would get into the playoffs as long as Portland failed to defeat Vancouver on the road.
If Sporting KC loses to San Jose, it will get into the playoffs as long as it still maintains a better goal differential than Portland, which would need to lose. Currently, Sporting KC has a minus-1 goal differential and Portland has a minus-2. So if each club loses by one goal, for example, Sporting KC would still occupy the final playoff spot.
Additionally, Sporting KC remains in the mix to earn the No. 4 seed and host a knockout round game. But that requires a victory against San Jose and a draw between Seattle and Real Salt Lake. If both of those results occur and Sporting KC maintains its goal differential edge over Portland, it would finish the season fourth in the West. Sporting KC has not played a home playoff game since it won the 2013 MLS Cup.