The Full 90

Summer will be true test for Sporting

Sporting Kansas City's 1-4-1 start to the season is disappointing to say the least. With consecutive games coming against the Galaxy and the Sounders, hopes for a quick turnaround seem unlikely.

Everyone knew this 10-game road trip to start the season would be brutal. But it's important to remember that this is Major League Soccer, which doesn't punish a team for long stretches of mediocre play. Ten teams will make the playoffs this season, and that's all that really matters, because once a team is in the postseason, anything can happen.

Remember, the fifth best team in the Western Conference, the Colorado Rapids, won MLS Cup last year. The Rapids had a 1-3-6 stretch of play in 2010 and still were crowned champs at season's end. So, Sporting Kansas City has loads of time to pick up a few points and then hit the key part of their schedule.

As I see it, there are two pivotal parts to the 2011 schedule.

First is the home opener on June 9. The Sporting braintrust has gone out of its way to manufacture a rivalry with the Chicago Fire, starting a promotion with the sandwich shop Firehouse Subs that provides free food whenever the Fire loses. Chicago is the opponent for the first game at Livestrong Sporting Park, so if you're going to pick on someone, you'd better beat them in the first game in your new home. Plus, there's free food at stake.

The biggest key will be August. Sporting will be coming off two regular-season home games when it plays six times at Livestrong in a 25-day stretch. In that time, they'll face the likes of the Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and Dallas. There will be every opportunity to wither in the summer heat. But there also will be the chance to take control of the season.

At that point, the team will hopefully have a healthy Omar Bravo, who has been sorely missed during the current five-game winless streak. The team's anemic attack (one goal in the run of play the last three games) has looked too much like last season's.

So while four points from six games is not ideal, it's not the end of the world. Particularly not in MLS, and not with an opportunity this summer to turn this thing around.

| Pete Grathoff, pgrathoff@kcstar.com

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