The Full 90

Sporting KC stays second as MLS playoff race tightens in Eastern Conference

Kansas City Star

Will woeful Chivas USA be the slump-buster that Sporting Kansas City needs to get back on track?

The three points earned in the massive 4-0 victory last Friday keeps KC upright in the ever-constricting Eastern Conference playoff race. Now, will it be enough to stretch beyond KC’s impending bye-week and steady the ship for the last five games of the regular season?

After this weekend’s fixtures, only 10 points separates first-place D.C. United (47) from the two teams battling over the fifth-and-final spot Columbus and Philadelphia.

Of the 10 teams in the conference, only Montreal is technically out of the running for a playoff spot.* Toronto (34 points), Houston (32) and Chicago (30) are all on the outside looking in, but have an extra game in hand on most of the rest of the teams (and two on Sporting KC).

*Until further notice, it’s not really worth tracking the Supporters’ Shield numbers as it pertains to Sporting KC. As of this writing, KC is sixth in that particular race behind Seattle (who have clinched a playoff spot already), Los Angeles, D.C. United, Salt Lake and Dallas.

Now, will that win be enough to tether Sporting to second place during an MLS bye week? KC will likely stay fresh with two home CONCACAF Champions League fixtures against Deportivo Saprissa on Thursday and Real Esteli next Tuesday squeezed in before facing New England at Sporting Park on Sept. 26.

But this weekend, D.C. United has a chance to put some space between the two and, potentially, for New England to pull level in second place.

The extra game played doesn’t really hurt KC’s expected points (points per game multiplied by games remaining or ePts) though. KC would finish with 53 points if it can retain a 1.55 points-per game pace — second in the East behind D.C.’s 1.68 ppg and 57 ePts. The Revs ePts is 51.

Realistically, 53 points would lock up a playoff spot. Since the league expanded to 34 games in 2011, no team has missed the playoffs with at least 53 points. (Though Columbus in ’12 missed with 52 points.)

It’s way too early to start really contemplating a “magic” number. (Technically, it’s 11 points right now). Since Columbus, Philadelphia and Toronto — the three teams fighting for the last playoff spot — can only earn a maximum of 55 points, KC would be guaranteed a playoff spot at 56 points.*

*Given the recent struggles, difficulty of schedule and general wackiness of MLS play, that numbers seems really high.

However, maximum possible points is an ever-shifting amoeba to measure. This weekend features three match ups in the East that will alter the max points for six teams — D.C. United travels to Chicago (Sat., 7:30 p.m. on MLS Live), Philadelphia hosts Houston (Sat., 6 p.m. on MLS Live) and New England squares off with Columbus (Sat., 6:30 p.m. on MLS Live).

Without even playing that number could drop. For example: Losses by New York, Columbus and Philadelphia would make the number 54.

Kansas City has a chance to alter the max points of five playoff rivals — or vice versa — over the next month and a half with massive six-pointers against New England (Friday, Sept. 26), at D.C. United (Friday, Oct. 3), Chicago (Friday, Oct. 10), at Philadelphia (Sat., Oct. 18) and New York (Sun., Oct. 26).

It’s a tight race, and it’s only going to get tighter the closer the season gets to the finish line.