The Full 90

Full 90 Mailbag: Will Sporting KC make the playoffs? What’s the best soccer movie?

The Kansas City Star

With all of the focus on Kansas City’s other playoff team, the plight of Sporting Kansas City (KC’s normal playoff team) is sort of under the radar.

But, there exists a very real possibility that Sporting KC — a playoff lock over the last three seasons — is in danger of falling below the red line.

This possibility — along with the play of KC’s goalkeepers and soccer movies — are on the agenda for this week’s Full 90 mailbag. Let’s dig in.

This is the point where I don’t give you good news. So, make sure you click here before carrying on.

Kansas City hasn’t won a single match this year against its final four opponents.

That might seem like a misprint, but it isn’t. In 8 matches against D.C., Chicago, Philly and New York this year, Kansas City is 0-5-3 and 0-2-3 at home.

What’s more worse, Kansas City has won just four matches against its five main playoff rivals — D.C., New England, Columbus, New York and Toronto. Those four wins came against Columbus (two) and Toronto (2). Yikes.

In other words, Sporting KC is 4-7-3 against teams it could potentially face in the playoffs.

So, to answer your question, this is a really tough climb.

Given that KC realistically needs to get 6-8 points from the last four games, the most winnable games have to be against the two teams outside of the playoffs: Chicago and Philadelphia.*

*KC is 0-2-2 against those teams combined this year.

And, honestly, a win against New York is basically a necessity.

Only five points separate New England, Kansas City, Columbus, New York and Toronto. Only four of those five will make the playoffs and starting this weekend, essentially, begins a series of six-pointers that will determine seedings.

New England hosts Columbus this weekend, Toronto visits New York on Oct. 11, Columbus visits New York on Oct. 19, New England plays Toronto on Oct. 25 and KC hosts New York in the last fixture of the season on Oct. 26.

New York (with three matches) and Columbus (two road tests) have the most to gain/lose over the next month.

Given the #sadstats info dump in the previous, it’s hard to peg KC to a spot right now — but I can’t see it being #1 or #2 anymore at all.

We’ll know a lot more about KC’s spot after this Friday’s game with D.C. United — who close with a very winnable troika of games against Houston, Chicago and Montreal.

New England closes with winnable games against Montreal and New York, and gets Columbus and Toronto at home.

Holding onto the third spot could be tricky and, honestly, if that means a two-leg match up with the Revolution, that could be a nightmare scenario for KC. The Revs owned Sporting this year with three wins and a combined score of 8-3.

I think, given the fixtures at hand and the teams around them, KC should finish in the third spot — but fourth or even fifth won’t surprise me.

That was the optimistic outlook.

Taking the pessimistic approach: Sporting could very well miss the playoffs.

KC’s only wins since August 1 were against Toronto (imploding at the time), Chivas (an ongoing train wreck), Saprissa (fired their manager this week) and Esteli (never won a CCL game ever).

That’s not exactly a resume that inspires confidence.

As an Eric Kronberg defender most of the season, it’s very hard to argue with you on this one. To my eyes (I’m not a great judge, I was a very mediocre goalkeeper), he looked extremely rusty in this game. Sorta like a guy who missed nearly two months of action.

While I think Kronberg organizes the back line better than either Andy Gruenebaum or Jon Kempin (a key component of KC’s defensive system), it seems like maybe he was rushed back too soon from his broken finger.

His positioning on Jones’ game-winning goal wasn’t the sort of position you tend to see from him. Also, the Revs were shooting low and to his left all game long — his broken finger was on his left hand side.

Would Gruenebaum have made those saves? That’s a tough game to start playing, but you’re not being too reactive if you start wondering aloud about it.

I think the biggest need — besides Myers and Opara returning to health, Matt Belser getting a rest, and sorting out Aurelien Collin’s contract — is a mobile, hard-tackling, energetic and fearless midfielder to pair next to Benny Feilhaber.

Where in the world would you find one those guys?

BTW, I’m not privy to the sort of agent rumblings that guys like Taylor Twellman, Grant Wahl and Alexi Lalas are, but I’m pretty sure I agree with this this bet from Twellman.

Roger Espinoza isn’t getting playing time anymore with Wigan and, since he left on a free transfer, KC retained his rights. A midfield of Feilhaber-Espinoza-Claros (his fellow Honduran national teamer) is pretty enticing, no? Especially with Nagamura and Olum in reserve.

Concussions are on everyone’s mind right now in soccer. Just this week, UEFA and FIFA announced new concussion protocols that allows a referee to stop the match for up to three minutes for on-pitch assessments. Only the team doctor has the authority to determine if said player can continue.

Major League Soccer has its own set of protocols. I reached out to Sporting KC’s communications manager Kurt Austin. (As is usual with Kurt, he delivered the goods.)

According to him, the league’s evaluation protocols states:

“Any player suspected of having sustained a concussion will be removed from play immediately and evaluated by team medical staff. If the initial evaluation results in a concussion diagnosis, he will not be returned to play in the same game or practice.”

Furthermore, players must undergo a baseline neuropsychological test and each team has a designated consulting neuropsychologist (for Sporting KC that is Dr. Neal Erickson, who is at every home match) who will evaluate the player before returning to full-contact play. The physician has “absolute authority” to decide if a player is fit to play.

If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, they must be free of “somatic and cognitive symptoms for at least 24 hours” before returning to training. The team physician will monitor the progression step-by-step until the player is deemed fit to actually train with the team and then play in a game.

As for prevention, earlier this year commissioner Don Garber and U.S. Soccer CEO and Secretary General Dan Flynn met with President Obama, sports officials, medical experts, parent activists and young athletes as part of the Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit.

Sometime this fall (I can’t find details online), MLS and U.S. Soccer are partnering to hold a Soccer Medical Summit focusing on “medical issues related to youth, amateur and professional soccer.”

As much as I love “Escape to Victory,” I’m gonna take the field on this one because that allows me to select either “The Damned United” or “Fever Pitch.” I love both of those movies a lot. (I have a soft spot too for Will Ferrell’s “Kicking & Screamng” too.)

After that, it’s sort of dry though. It feels like there should be more good soccer movies, but I’m having trouble making a Top Five that doesn’t include “Bend It Like Beckham.” Yikes. (I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got a favorite I may have missed.)

Perhaps its because the sport hasn’t quite broken through into the media landscape in this country. It’s not like soccer doesn’t have intriguing characters and/or stories to fictionalize or turn into a biopic. (I’d love to see a “The Natural”-style flick about Francesco Totti. Wouldn’t you?)

Of course, if you want more documentary flavor, the field opens up a lot more. Personally, I’d go with “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” — featuring a soundtrack by my favorite post-rock band Mogwai — or the ESPN “30 for 30” film “The Two Escobars.” Both are brilliant.

As always, excellent questions again this week.

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