These are supposed to be the easy games, or at least that’s what Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes says, but they’ve been anything but easy lately.
“It’s hard to understand why,” he said after Sporting’s latest disappointment, a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night at Sporting Park. “You know when something’s on the line it’s time to go and we didn’t have that today.”
One week ago, Sporting was in the driver’s seat, needing a single result to secure the club’s fifth-straight playoff appearance. ESPN’s Soccer Index had Sporting 99.5 percent likely to reach the postseason.
But now, after two consecutive losses, Sporting’s postseason aspirations are up in the air ahead of the final weekend of the MLS regular season.
“I know that you’re not always going to win every game,” Vermes said. “But I do that you’ve got to come out with a certain approach and a certain intent, and we didn’t do that in the game.”
Sporting fumbled a prime opportunity to the Rapids at home in a must-win game before welcoming the Los Angeles Galaxy into town. Colorado has been stingy on the road all season, of course, but that doesn’t excuse Sporting from putting forth an inexplicable — and at times lifeless — home performance against one of the worst teams in the league.
This blog has long touted the MLS and its parity for a long time, and for very good reason. The MLS is at times a bizarre league where any team can win on any given night regardless of their position in the standings. But when so much is on the line against a lesser-quality side, to lack urgency and awareness and at times interest, is troubling.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do,” Kevin Ellis said after the game. “Whether we were lacking urgency, we didn’t keep the ball, defend well or didn’t finish our chances, every guy’s going to take responsibility for that. We knew exactly what we had to do and we didn’t do it.”
There’s no rhyme or reason to this performance. Ellis said the last few days of practice were positive and that the team was eager to lock up a playoff spot at home where they had lost just once before Wednesday.
Then again, there’s no reason why Sporting has struggled against non-playoff teams, too.
Against Western Conference teams currently below the playoff red line, Sporting is 1-7-3. That includes two losses to Real Salt Lake, Colorado and San Jose, the latter of which Sporting is battling for the final playoff spot.
That battle now comes down to the final weekend of the season. Sporting KC hosts the Galaxy, who are also coming off a horrid home defeat and boast a blockbuster lineup featuring Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos and Steven Gerrard. The San Jose Earthquakes, meanwhile, face the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in FC Dallas. And while FC Dallas has secured its playoff positioning, it won’t be easy going for the Earthquakes as Dallas still is trying for the Supporters Shield.
Still, for Sporting KC, it’s win and they’re in, but these scenarios could be much easier had Sporting shown up on Wednesday night. Instead, a possible fifth-straight trip to the playoffs will have to wait until Sunday. The key word is “possible.”
“Sunday is a playoff game,” Benny Feilhaber said. “It’s that simple.”