The announcement came over the Children’s Mercy Park public address system moments after the match Sunday, in almost a celebratory manner. Yes, for the seventh straight season, Sporting Kansas City clinched a spot in the playoffs.
But inside the home locker room, the mood illustrated a different story. One absent of celebration. One of disappointment. Of a missed opportunity.
Time will soon tell which will be the lasting effect.
Sporting Kansas City settled for a 0-0 draw Sunday with the visiting Houston Dynamo, failing to put any of its 27 shots into the back of the net.
After four tries, Sporting KC finally guaranteed itself a spot in the postseason. But the future beyond that is much less certain.
By falling to fourth place in the West on Sunday — a product of securing only two points in its past four matches — Sporting KC is not assured of returning to Children’s Mercy Park again in 2017.
“We put ourselves in a really difficult position,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “It’s incredibly frustrating not getting the results that we needed in these last four games, especially tonight, where everything was there for us.”
Sporting KC utterly dominated the statistical categories, finishing with 69 percent possession and unleashing 27 shots. Its best chance waited until the final moments — a ball falling to forward Latif Blessing’s foot in front of a wide-open goal. He re-directed the shot back across the goal and into the hands of Houston keeper Tyler Deric, who made nine saves.
Graham Zusi and Diego Rubio also banked shots off the crossbar.
“We had all of the chances in the world, and we didn’t score,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “I mean if you’re two yards away from goal, and the goalkeeper’s to your left and you got 10 feet of the goal in front of you, you gotta stick it into the net.”
Added defender Graham Zusi: “There’s really no excuse, to be brutally honest, that we don’t put one in the net.”
Sporting KC (12-8-13) has scored only twice over its past four matches, none of them victories.
So, here it sits.
With a one-point draw Sunday — rather than a three-point win — Sporting KC fell to fourth place in the West. Seattle and Portland each won and leapfrogged Sporting KC in the standings.
It’s an important descent, too. The top two seeds in the Western Conference will receive first-round byes, and Sporting KC now needs some significant outside help in next weekend’s finale to claim one of those two byes.
Sporting KC has lost in the first round of the playoffs — referred to as the knockout round — in each of the past three years, all of them away from home. It is a one-game, winner-take-all round rather than the two-game series offered deeper into the playoffs.
Every MLS team will conclude the regular season next Sunday. Sporting KC will have to do its work on the road at Real Salt Lake, which is still battling for a playoff spot. With a victory, Sporting KC would ensure a home playoff match for the first time since it lifted the MLS Cup in 2013. Without one, some help would be required in a multitude of different scenarios.
Potentially, after sitting in the race for the top spots in the Western Conference for much of the season, Sporting KC could instead return to the road for the opening round of the playoffs.
“It’s good we got into the playoffs, but we put ourselves in a position where we’re gonna have to fight it out in the last game like the last couple of years,” Vermes said. “Unfortunately, it’s because of missed chances. That’s what it does to you. Missed chances, you don’t score, it puts you in that position.”