First place in the East? Masters of their own destiny? Playoffs?
Don't panic. It's a new morning in Kansas City. One in which a professional sports team in the city of fountains is alive, kicking and in control as the playoffs near.
Sporting Kansas City, in front of more than 17,000 on a Wednesday night, put the Eastern Conference hierarchy into focus -- for now. Sporting rules the roost, but it hasn't locked anything down yet. Only two points separate first and second; just eight separate first and sixth.
But now that they are on top of the pile, the focus is just staying up there.
Let's break down the playoff quagmire as best we can. Starting with the most obvious, ranking the teams by points scored.Eastern Conference Standings
Team: Points | Games | W-L-T | Goal Differential
1. Kansas City: 44 | 31 | 11-9-11 | +7
2. Houston: 42 | 31 | 10-9-12 | 0
3. Columbus: 41 | 31 | 11-12-8 | -4
4. Philadelphia: 40 | 29 | 9-7-13 | +6
5. New York: 39 | 30 | 8-7-15 | +5
6. DC United: 38 | 28 | 9-8-11 | +2
7. Chicago: 36 | 30 | 7-8-15 | 0
8. Toronto: 30 | 31 | 6-13-12 | -23
9. New England: 27 | 30 | 5-13-12 | -15
By points alone KC, Houston and Columbus would earn the automatic playoff spots in the East; Philadelphia and New York would take the last two wild-card spots. (In the West it's Los Angeles, Seattle and Real Salt Lake with the automatic berths and Dallas and Colorado with the wild-cards.)
But, because of the uneven number of games played so far (DC still have 6 games to play), judging the leaders by just points is often a little misleading. The more accurate metric is points per game.
For Kansas City fans, that's also a metric that puts KC at the top of the pile.Eastern Conference Standings: Points Per Game
1. Kansas City: 1.419
2. Philadelphia: 1.379
3. DC United: 1.357
4. Houston: 1.354
5. Columbus: 1.323
6. New York: 1.300
7. Chicago: 1.200
8. Toronto: 0.968
9. New England: 0.900
By this measure Kansas City, Philly and DC are the front-runners for the automatic bids. Houston and Columbus would be the last wild-cards. (The West stays the same.)
For the next three games, the goal is simple: Win. If Sporting earns the maximum points (9), it will be in no matter what else happens. Only DC has the capacity to overtake KC if both teams win all the games -- which isn't possible, since KC and DC play on the last day of the season.Eastern Conference Standings: Maximum Points
Games remaining in parenthesis
1. DC United: 56 (6)
2. Philadelphia: 55 (5)
3. Kansas City: 53 (3)
4. Houston: 51 (3)
5. New York: 51 (4)
6. Columbus: 50 (3)
7. Chicago: 48 (4)
8. Toronto: 39 (3)
9. New England: 39 (4)
Because of the tightness, there are several key games to pay attention to this weekend apart from KC's trip to San Jose. (Tomorrow, we'll try and explore the various scenarios that KC can clinch a playoff spot.)
• DC United at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. tonight, ESPN2
A draw would be the perfect result here, lowering the maximum point ceiling for both teams. The worst result temporarily would be Philadelphia winning and jumping to second; the worst result in the long run would be DC picking up points.
• Chicago at Houston, 3 p.m. Saturday, Telefutura
I know you're probably getting hungry for some Firehouse Subs, but it's probably best if Chicago wins this one. They can't realistically overtake KC and knocking Houston down would help.
• New York at Toronto FC, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox Soccer
A Toronto victory would be nice -- but so would a date with Brooklyn Decker. Victories for TFC and Chicago would put New York on level points/games with the Fire.
• DC United at Columbus, 3 p.m. Sunday
Draw. A win for either team could be troublesome.
• Philadelphia at Chivas, 7 p.m. Sunday