Last year, Sporting Kansas City finished 42 points above D.C. United in the final standings. Now? Only two points separate the two teams — with KC sitting on 42 points and United on 20 (with one game in hand).
Should SKC pick up the win, they could move five points ahead of D.C.; should SKC lose, D.C. would leapfrog them with a game in hand.
A pretty big August fixture. Let’s preview.
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Kickoff at Sporting Park is 7:30 p.m. with TV coverage on KMCI-38 The Spot and SKCTV.
Sporting KC is 12-6-6 (42 points) this season and 5-1-6 at home with a +10 goal differential.
D.C. United is not far behind with a record of 12-7-4 (40 points), but have been fairly mediocre on the road — 4-5-1 with only 13 goals scored.
Both teams are on fairly good form with four wins apiece in their last six matches.
Tactical Question: Can KC handle the bunker?
SKC’s last two wins at home — 2-1 vs. Los Angeles and 4-1 against Toronto — have been fairly open affairs with the opponent looking to attack. That’s not likely going to be United’s game plan.
While D.C. United is a remade team this season, their philosophy under Ben Olsen still hasn’t completely changed. United like to attack at home and sit back on the road.
The biggest difference this year is that Olsen has added a handful of experienced MLS players in Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Davy Arnaud, Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe and (though he’s suspended for this match) Eddie Johnson.
Those guys all know how to win — Boswell, Franklin and Espindola have been on recent title-winning teams — and they know how to play against Kansas City. And, with Rolfe and Espindola lurking in the attacking half, they also know how to capitalize on mistakes.
The key for Kansas City’s attack is to be patient without letting the ball get stuck moving laterally in possession. Vertical movement — with or without the ball — is key to getting behind a defense in numbers.
For KC’s defense, the goal is to cut out mistakes. With numbers likely forward in possession a lot this game, KC will have very little margin for error along the back line. Should D.C. find a goal in this game, it could make the job for the offense (trying to carve up a massed defense of 10 or 11 players) much, much harder.
Big Number: 30
That’s how many points are available the rest of this season for KC — 27 of those points come in nine matches against Eastern Conference foes. Since the East is bunched up — six teams have between 25 and 30 points — most of those games are going to determine playoff position.
It’s unreasonable to even think KC could pick up all of them of course. But how many do they actually need to accrue to have a shot at the Supporters’ Shield?
Realistically, about 18 to 20.
Over the last five seasons, the Supporters’ Shield winner has picked up an average of 59.8 points. (That includes both the ’09 and ’10 seasons with only 30 games played and 90 possible points.)
Should Kansas City’s pace of 1.75 points per game hold (roughly, 5-2-3 would do it), that would put them at 59 points.
The catch: Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and D.C. United are also on pace for just about 59 points. Seattle, with only 23 games played, is on pace for about 62 points. (Pace is determined by points per game x games remaining.) An extra win or draw here and there will make a huge difference.
The last 10 matches tend to be fairly important in Major League Soccer — it’s when teams make a final push for a trophy.
The five most recent Supporters’ Shield winners (New York, San Jose, Los Angeles, Los Angeles and Columbus) picked up an average of 18.6 points over their last 10 matches.
The five most recent MLS Cup winners (Kansas City, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Colorado and Real Salt Lake) were just about on the same form picking up an average of 18.6 points per game.
Basically, teams who win trophies in this league tend to earn points when it matters most at the end of the season.
Supporting FC Kansas City
Sporting KC isn’t the only big game in town this weekend. FC Kansas City opens up the NWSL playoffs with a home game against the Portland Thorns. Kickoff is at 12 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Field at Durwood Stadium. If you can’t make it out, the broadcast will be on ESPN2.
Read up on the playoff rematch from my colleague Kathleen Gier. This should be a really good match.
Both teams are coming off impressive home wins last week and tricky mid-week CONCACAF Champions League matches — Sporting KC drew with Real Esteli on the road while United defeated Jamaican club Waterhouse FC 1-0.
Fatigue could be an issue for both teams. I think Kansas City’s overall quality and recent attacking improvements should see them out.