The locker room had mostly cleared out by the time Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic finally stood up from the chairs in front of their own stations. Late Wednesday evening, after another Sporting Kansas City letdown, players had showered, dressed and departed for home before Besler and Sinovic had even removed their uniforms.
On opposite ends of the rooms, the two Kansas City natives sat in silence, initially staring toward nothing in particular but ultimately addressing the topic many preferred to circumvent.
“I wish I had the answers,” Besler said. “This is tough for all of us, but we have to look at ourselves.”
In early July, more than half of the MLS season completed, Sporting sits dead last in the Western Conference. Any number of things have placed Sporting here — injuries, defensive lapses, a recent inability to convert goal-scoring chances, the eradication of confidence, a Champions League hangover.
The length of the spell has prompted more complications. As Sporting KC fights to get out of this, to return to the early season form that made this team appear one of the league’s best, the mistakes are increasingly self-inflicted.
For an analogy, Sinovic reverted back to his childhood. He grew up here in the Kansas City area, a fan of the local sports teams, particularly the Royals. And he recalls a line one of his favorite players use to invoke.
“I’ve heard the example in baseball that when you’re in a slump, George Brett used to say, ‘Try easier,’” Sinovic said. “When you’re struggling, you press and you press, trying to do too much. We need to stick to what our jobs are and do the simple thing. When we get down, we start pressing and trying harder and trying without confidence and doing things we’re not accustomed to doing. That’s when we open ourselves up and give up goals. We have to get back to the basic and simple things. We have to try easier. Confidence will come from that once we get results.”
Sinovic has been with this team for nine seasons. Besler has been in the league for 11, all with his hometown Sporting KC, rarely a blip in their resumes stacked with success stories. The club carries an eight-year playoff streak that looks progressively more in doubt. They’ve both been a member of every one of those teams, Besler captaining the past five.
So this is unusual. Uncomfortable. Unexpected.
As it turns out, that’s making the experience now all the more difficult to climb out of.
“It’s a position we haven’t been in,” Besler said. “Throughout a season, there are always ups and downs, and there are games where you come out flat or you don’t have a good performance. (But) for an extended period of time like this, I don’t think there are many guys at this club that have ever been through it. In some ways, that makes it even more difficult— nobody has experience with this.”
It’s no longer likely Sporting KC sneaks into the playoffs. The website FiveThirtyEight deems it far from impossible, though, giving Sporting a 34% chance of qualifying for one of the seven spots.
It sits seven points behind the line with 16 games to play.
“The only thing I can say is I know in difficult moments, it takes strong people and strong personalities,” Besler said. “You’re not going to get out of it by sitting back and letting things happen. We need everyone to step up.”