Sporting KC

Is it time to worry about Sporting Kansas City’s place in the standings?

Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes: We missed too many chances

Peter Vermes spoke to the media after LA Galaxy beat Sporting KC 2-0 on Wednesday.
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Peter Vermes spoke to the media after LA Galaxy beat Sporting KC 2-0 on Wednesday.

More than 60% of the MLS schedule remains in future tense, a wealth of anything-can-happen opportunity still in play. It’s important to state that up front. So as Sporting Kansas City leans on the crutch of a cliche — insisting there’s no panic— there’s some validity to it.

But as the team heads to Houston on Saturday, the reality is less cheerful, more grim. Sporting is second-to-last in points per game in the Western Conference, a free-fall over the past two months owning the responsibility for it.

It’s nearly unprecedented.

Since 2012, Sporting KC has only once played a match in June or later and sat on the wrong end of the playoff line after the final whistle.

Once.

And by the way, that was on June 2, 2016, and the ship was quickly righted. It’s a remarkable string of consistency over a seven-season stretch, particularly in a league in which recent history is marked by such variance.

But it’s about to change.

The calendar flips to June on Saturday, when Sporting KC travels to face the Houston Dynamo, and the club has no mathematical possibility of climbing above the playoff line by day’s end. Even with a win.

“At this point, I don’t think there’s any need to look at other teams. We have to worry about ourselves,” captain Matt Besler said. “We have to get back into a position where we’re in a conversation of looking at the table. Right now, we’re not. That’s the reality of it. And we have to accept that.”

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It all started so well, Sporting making a run in the CONCACAF Champions League and holding its own in MLS play. But the club has won just one of its past nine matches.

The effects from navigating two early-season competitions appear to be long-lasting, both mentally and physically, with an injury list only recently beginning to shrink.

How long-lasting? The next five months will determine that. For Sporting KC to reach a ninth consecutive postseason, it needs to climb out of a hole in which it’s never resided during that streak.

The companion at the moment? Time.

“We have everything in front of us to play for,” Besler said. “It would be nice to be higher up in the standings — there’s no doubt about that. But in no way (are) our guys holding their heads down and throwing things away. We still believe, and we know that there’s a long season ahead of us and we have a lot to play for.”

It’s too early for the players to seriously analyze questions about playoff standings. Besides, seven of the 12 Western Conference teams earn a spot. Only five are sent home.

But allow us to take an early look. The playoff line figures to fall somewhere around 45-47 points. In order to reach that range, Sporting KC would need to generate about 1.48 points per match over the final two-thirds of the season. It’s not all that unattainable — the team has averaged that mark over a full year in three of the previous six seasons.

But this year’s group won just three of its first eight home matches. And as it now tries to play catchup, it embarks on a four-game road swing.

That’s the bad news. The good? After injuries played their part in the standing, Sporting appears to be getting healthier. Besler, Graham Zusi and Andreu Fontas returned to the back line. Daniel Salloi is back, and Krisztian Nemeth will play Saturday after a two-game suspension. The team expects Gerso Fernandes back in June.

It’s a start.

“We’ll get some other bodies, and that’s a positive,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “Having said that, you can’t just hope it’s going to turn around just because everybody is back. It’s a process, and you have to do the right things to work your way out of this. We just have to keep grinding and keep working in training and slowly eliminate those mental mistakes.”

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