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Sporting KC clings to slim margin atop Eastern Conference

09/17/2012 12:56 PM

05/16/2014 7:43 PM

Results didn't go very well for Sporting Kansas City this weekend. And, as a result, the Eastern Conference race is now tighter than a pair of Russell Brand's jeans.

It's not likely that Sporting celebrated C.J. Sapong's last-minute goal to salvage a 1-1 draw with Houston like they would've for a victory, but getting at least that one point will likely be very important in the race for playoff positions.

After Kansas City and Houston shared a point a piece on Friday, Chicago and New York both rolled with impressive 3-1 victories on Saturday. Now, just five points separate those four teams.

The tie certainly didn't help the Supporter's Shield race. San Jose popped Chivas in the face and hold an impressive five-point lead (with all the tiebreakers) in that race.*

*The Supporter's Shield is important not only because it's a nice trophy, but the team with the most points in the regular season will guarantee home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- including the MLS Cup. However, the big caveat is that the Supporter's Shield winner will only host the MLS Cup if that team actually makes it to the MLS Cup. If, say, San Jose were to be eliminated in the second round, the team with the most points among the two MLS Cup finalists would host the MLS Cup. Does that make sense? Kansas City might not win the Supporter's Shield back, but finishing second in the league in points would still be important.

For now, Kansas City is out in front of the pack, but just barely, with 51 points. Chicago (50) and New York (49) aren't far behind; Houston is fourth (46) with an extra game played. D.C. United (44) and Columbus (42) will figure to duke it out for the last playoff spot in the East.

Putting the schedules for the rest of September of the top four side-by-side, it doesn't look like Kansas City drew any favors from the schedule makers.

Kansas City

@ New York (Wednesday), @ Montreal (Saturday), vs. Chicago (9/28)

Three points in New York won't be easy, but to keep pace in the East they are almost a must -- if not Wednesday, then certainly when they travel back in October. The good news for Kansas City? They've played far better on the road the last two months. Since their 4-0 loss to Philadelphia on June 23, Sporting Kansas City are 4-1-0 in all competitions away from home with a goal differential of +7. The only blemish was against Houston, who haven't lost a game at BBVA Compass Stadium yet.

Chicago

vs. Columbus (Saturday), @ Kansas City (9/28)

The Fire are undefeated at Livestrong Sporting Park in its two year history and, overall, haven't lost to Kansas City since Oct. 12, 2010. The Columbus match looked to be a tricky fixture, but the Crew have lost two matches in a row allowing 5 goals.

New York

vs. Kansas City (Wed.), @ New England (Sat.), vs. Toronto (9/29)

The schedule maker has been very kind to the Red Bulls who get to play the two Eastern teams who have already been eliminated from the playoffs. They'll host Kansas City and Chicago in October.

Houston

@ Philadelphia (Sun.), vs. New England (9/29)

Two matches against cellar-dwelling teams are only complicated by a Thursday match-up with C.D. FAS in the CONCACAF Champions League. The Dynamo are the only Eastern conference team competing on two fronts.

While Kansas City faces the toughest challenge on paper, they also get the bonus of playing fellow playoff teams: 1) A win means not only three points for KC, but three points that its opponent will not be able to claim; and 2) Kansas City will get plenty of experience playing in playoff-like scenarios.

Because, unless something very, very drastic happens, Kansas City are almost certain to make the playoffs. Since the MLS expanded to 12 teams in 2005, a 50-point team has never missed the playoffs.

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