The Full 90

XI Questions: This just got real

Rhetorically exploring the questions that surround Sporting Kansas City. This week, we'll look not backwards but to what lies ahead as we near the final push for the playoffs. 1. Does the Salt Lake loss hurt Kansas City?

It sucks to lose any game, of course, especially a game where

the stats show KC controlled the game

. But soccer is a weird sport that often defies straight statistical analysis.

The important thing: KC didn't lose ground, nor gain ground.

Grand scheme: Allowing just a set-piece goal away to one of the best teams in soccer is a moral victory. Of course, moral victories don't bring any points with them. And points matter right now.

2. What can KC expect over the next five games?


Sporting are second in the East with 40 points -- one behind Columbus, one ahead of Philadelphia (though the Union have one game in hand).

Funny, those are KC's next two opponents. The prevailing knowledge would have you believe these are two teams that struggle to score and are sound defensively (i.e., they'll bunker and play for the nil-nil draw).

While both teams might plan on playing the "bunker" game on the road, I don't think either have shown the strength to withstand anyone. Columbus gave up four goals to Toronto -- at home. Philadelphia gave up four to New England -- at home. If you haven't checked out the MLS standings recently, Toronto and New England are the two worst teams in the East.*

*Columbus fans have witnessed a staggering 28 total goals in the last 7 games. I wasn't a math major, but I'm pretty sure that's a four-goal per game average.

After those two home games:

• KC travels to San Jose on Oct. 8. The Earthquakes have just one win (at home against Chicago) in its last 15 games -- a streak that dates back to June 11.

• The last regular-season home game at Livestrong Sporting Park is Oct. 15 against New York. The Red Bulls -- you're not going to believe this -- have only won three games since June 1.

• The season finale is at decrepit RFK against D.C. United. During its most recent road trip, United split 3-0 results -- beating Chivas and losing to Seattle. At least United is consistent.

3. What's the best-case scenario?

Obviously, earning all 15 points would be tops. But, realistically, 10 points is a more likely ceiling. I think they'll get that by beating Philly, DC and San Jose, losing to New York, and drawing Columbus).

A much better question (one I've posed here before) is would KC be better off finishing first in the East (and potentially face a stronger Western Conference wild-card team) or second (and likely face Philadelphia)?

I think they'll go for the conference crown, but won't feel too bad if they wind up 2nd or 3rd.

4. What games should KC fans keep track of the next two weeks?

Columbus hosts star-studded Los Angeles on Saturday before coming to KC and then going home to host DC United on Sunday.

Philadelphia follows its trip to KC with a home game against D.C. United Sept. 29 before crossing the country to play Chivas on Oct. 2.

Houston will face Dallas Saturday. New York and DC will host Chivas and Salt Lake, respectively, tonight

and

then host Portland and Salt Lake, respectively, on Saturday.

5. I've forgotten, what's the set-up for the MLS Playoffs this year?

The top-three finishers in each conference qualify automatically. The next-best four clubs based on regular-season points (irrespective of conference) will earn wild card bids.

The four wild cards will play single-elimination games, with the higher seeds hosting the play-in games.

After the play-in games, the lowest-remaining seed will face the Supporters' Shield winner while the other faces the No. 1 seed from the opposite conference. Seeds No. 2 and 3 in each conference will play each other. This round is a home-and-home series settled by aggregate goals.

The Conference Finals are a one-off game hosted by the higher see. The MLS Cup is a one-off as well played on Nov. 20 at the Home Depot Center.

6. So, it's still ridiculous, huh? How could it be fixed (in less than 5 paragraphs)?

Oh hell yes. It's about as ridiculous as the popularity of "Jersey Shore" and most of the plot points from season three of "Lost." There are too many teams in the playoffs and there isn't enough protection for the top teams. (The prize for winning the East might be hosting Salt Lake or Dallas. Good job by you, MLS.)

A simple suggestion might be to make the playoffs more exclusive -- invite just 8 teams.

If MLS feels it must keep 10 teams though -- which it does -- don't create play-in games. Create byes. Give the Supporters' Shield winner and the team with the second-most points -- regardless of conference -- a bye week. Seed the rest 3-10 by points. If it's a balanced schedule, conferences shouldn't matter at all. Then re-seed each round so the best regular season team has the most advantages (like the NHL does).

That would be simple. However, if big and drastic fixes are your bag, it's hard not to be intrigued by

Grant Wahl's proposal at Sports Illustrated

. Why wouldn't that work?

7. Has Peter Vermes built a roster capable of an extended playoff run?

A long playoff run requires depth and flexibility. Squad depth can help patch over fixture clog and injuries. Also, the more quality you have in reserve, the easier it is to tailor a game plan and/or change a game with substitutions.

Sporting now has quality depth at most positions: three functioning fullbacks (Myers, Harrington, Sinovic), six quality midfielders (Cesar, Espinoza, Zusi, Arnaud, Rocastle, Jeferson) and four capable forwards to interchange up top (Bravo, Bunbury, Sapong, Kamara). The biggest hole is central defense, with only there reliable options (Besler, Collin, Cesar).

That doesn't take into consideration Peterson Joseph (talented, yet to play outside of the Newcastle game), Milos Stojcev (can still do a job if needed), Birahim Diop (functional, not flashy) and Soony Saad (nose for the goal late in games).

It certainly is a deeper team than the one that beat Chivas in March -- injuries and a few choice transfers have seen fit to that. Now, can Vermes pick the best 18 every week to compete?

8. Has Vermes secured his job regardless of what happens now?

I think he has. The hard road trip was a tough ask of any coach. Letting him go after putting him through that would've been short-sighted.

Say KC fired Vermes. If you were a coach sought to replace him, would you want to work for a team that figuratively shoved the previous coach bound-and-gagged into the trunk of a car and then fired him when he couldn't get out by himself?

Yeah, you're probably going to need a lot of guarantees and cash to say yes.

9. What's the one thing KC needs to address to avoid collapse?

No. More. Red. Cards.

10. How will the midfield shake out?

This is the most interesting thing to watch for me. There are five players begging to start and only three spots. Vermes will have to juggle (as he did on Saturday by bringing Arnaud and Jeferson off the bench) and ride the hot hands.

11. Are there enough regular season games left for Collin to earn another suspension for yellow-card accumulation?

After earning another against Salt Lake, the bald and collar-popped defender now has 9 yellow cards on the season. He's been suspended twice for accumulation. If he picks up two more in the next four games and he will be suspended ... again.

According to MLS rules, any player who accrues an additional THREE yellow cards after having been fined and suspended for a second game will be fined $750 and serve a suspension in his next game.

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