The Full 90

MatchDay Preview: Sporting KC tries to lock up playoff spot against Chicago

Jacob Peterson (37) of Sporting Kansas City heads the ball against Gonzalo Segares (13) of the Chicago Fire in Kansas City, Kansas, at Sporting Park on Sunday, July 6, 2014. (Brian Davidson)
Jacob Peterson (37) of Sporting Kansas City heads the ball against Gonzalo Segares (13) of the Chicago Fire in Kansas City, Kansas, at Sporting Park on Sunday, July 6, 2014. (Brian Davidson) Special to the Star

With a win tonight against the Chicago Fire, Sporting Kansas City will lock up a playoff spot.

It would put KC on 49 points — and make sure Houston and Philadelphia couldn’t catch up — and give KC it’s 14th win. That win is huge, as overall wins is the first tiebreaker.

Mike Kuhn at Down The Byline did a good job of sorting out the convoluted math. You should check it out, but the tl;dr version: Since New York plays both Columbus and Toronto (the three teams vying behind KC), it’s impossible for all three to finish on max points.

So, despite the roller coaster summer, a win is all KC needs to clinch its playoff spot.

Let’s jump into a very quick preview.

The Basics

Venue: Sporting Park

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

Broadcast: Live on KMCI-TV 38 the Spot and various SKCTV listings throughout the Midwest

About KC: 13-11-7 (46 points) overall, 5-4-6 (21 points) at home. Over its last six matches, KC is 1-4-1. Somehow, despite recent form, Sporting is still very much in the hunt for the 2nd spot in the Eastern Conference — of course, New England would have to collapse to make that happen.

About Chicago: 5-8-18 (33 points), 2-6-7 (13 points) on the road. Over its last six matches, Chicago is 0-2-4. The Fire was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend.

Does Chicago have KC’s number?

The Fire often come to KC and bunker. It’s a routine that everyone knows all too well. It’s also a routine that works.

You know how the Fire has mostly been mediocre over the last few seasons — including breaking the league record for ties this year* with 18? Well, that doesn’t really include matches against KC.

*You know who owned that record? The Fire! One more sad stat: Chicago has more points from its 18 draws (18) than it does from its five wins (15)!

The Fire has won five of the last 10 matches with KC. Sporting has won just two with the other three draws. Two of those draws were of the 0-0 yawn-inducing-please-stop-now variety.

At Sporting Park, the story is much sadder. Sporting has beaten Chicago just once in five meetings at Sporting Park with one loss and three ties. (That includes both of the 0-0 draws.)

In that same span (2011-now), Kansas City has won an Open Cup, an MLS Cup and reached the playoffs three consecutive years. Imagine how much better KC could’ve been if they could beat up on the Fire?

One more sad stat: Six of the last 10 matches have ended in a single-goal margin.

Lineup Questions

Peter Vermes has already come out and said Andy Gruenebaum will start in goal. That’s one certainty.

Seth Sinovic will miss this game thanks to yellow-card accumulation and Aurelien Collin is again listed as questionable with a right ankle strain. That will leave KC extremely thin (what else is new) at the back. Look for Jacob Peterson (who is healthy, but wasn’t rushed back last week in D.C.) to likely slide into Sinovic’s spot. The versatile Kevin Ellis could step in again for Collin.

So far this year, Peterson was started at four different positions (left and right forward, left-central midfield and left back) and played a fifth (right back). Ellis has started in three different spots on the back line and played a few minutes in a fourth. If not for their versatility, KC could be in a far worse situation.

Jorge Claros is listed on the team’s game notes as being suspended. So, we’ll go with that. In his place, Lawrence Olum will likely pick up another start.

I would expect to see Benny Feilhaber back in the starting lineup (after sitting out most of the D.C. game), with Graham Zusi and Toni Dovale both back out wide.

Prediction

Kansas City needs this. After a solid showing against D.C. United, KC might finally have the confidence to keep things in check in defense. Meanwhile, the Fire’s offense has been sputtering since, well, basically all year. Since the World Cup break ended, Chicago has scored at least two goals in an MLS game exactly three times.

I think Kansas City has enough in attack to break down the Fire, but I can’t see it being a goal-fest. The Fire is mediocre, not awful. (However, I haven’t picked the right result for a KC game in almost two months. So, keep that in mind.)

 
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