Six points back with seven matches to go.


That’s the situation Sporting Kansas City faces heading into the decisive stretch run of the 2019 MLS regular season.


Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes has guided his side to the MLS Cup Playoffs every year since 2011. Whether that streak extends into 2019 remains to be seen, but it won’t stop fans from prognosticating what will unfold in the coming weeks.


First, let’s set the stage. Sporting presently occupies ninth place in the Western Conference, six points behind FC Dallas for the seventh and final playoff spot. The postseason field has expanded from six to seven teams in each conference, featuring a single-elimination knockout-style format from the first round on Oct. 19-20 through MLS Cup on Nov. 10.


A current snapshot of the Western Conference table tells us that Sporting must leapfrog two teams between now and the regular season’s conclusion on Oct. 6 to secure a playoff berth.


Given how crowded the standings are—just three points separate second from seventh place—assessing each club’s strength of remaining schedule becomes a worthwhile endeavor. Which teams have the toughest road ahead? And how does Sporting’s home stretch stack up in terms of difficulty?


Strength of schedule numbers are crunched for Western Conference clubs in the far-right column below, calculated by taking the 2019 average points per match at home and on the road for each team's remaining opponents. With a strength of schedule clip at 1.40, Sporting has the sixth-toughest run-in on paper among Western Conference sides.


Assessing the teams above Sporting in the standings, San Jose (1.66) and Minnesota (1.63) have the toughest remaining schedules. The eighth-place Portland Timbers (1.09) have the easiest remaining schedule on paper, largely due to the fact that seven of their last eight games—save a trip to Children’s Mercy Park on Sept. 29—will be played at home.


WESTERN CONFERENCE STRENGTH OF REMAINING SCHEDULE

<strong>#</strong>
<strong>Club</strong>
<strong>PTS</strong>
<strong>GP</strong>
<strong>W</strong>
<strong>L</strong>
<strong>T</strong>
<strong>Remaining opponents' PPG</strong>
1
LAFC
62
27
19
3
5
<strong>1.22</strong>
2
Real Salt Lake
43
27
13
10
4
<strong>1.30</strong>
3
Seattle Sounders FC
43
27
12
8
7
<strong>1.28</strong>
4
LA Galaxy
42
27
13
11
3
<strong>1.44</strong>
5
Minnesota United FC
42
27
12
9
6
<strong>1.63</strong>
6
San Jose Earthquakes
41
27
12
10
5
<strong>1.66</strong>
7
FC Dallas
40
28
11
10
7
<strong>1.39</strong>
8
Portland Timbers
37
26
11
11
4
<strong>1.09</strong>
9
Sporting Kansas City
34
27
9
11
7
<strong>1.40</strong>
10
Houston Dynamo
31
27
9
14
4
<strong>1.54</strong>
11
Colorado Rapids
27
27
7
14
6
<strong>1.53</strong>
12
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
27
28
6
13
9
<strong>1.22</strong>

Sporting's first step towards climbing the table comes Saturday when rivals Houston Dynamo visit Children's Mercy Park for a 7:30 p.m. CT kickoff. Tickets for the contest are available at SeatGeek.com and the first 7,500 fans in attendance will receive Sporting KC branded sling grips for their mobile phones courtesy of match sponsor U.S. Bank.


Led by interim head coach and former Kansas City midfielder Davy Arnaud, the Dynamo sit three points behind Sporting in 10th place. Houston is only 2-11-0 on the road this season, a factor that contributed to the firing of former head coach Wilmer Cabrera earlier this month.


Sporting, meanwhile, are looking to complete a perfect three-game homestand ahead of a daunting two-match road swing that features trips to Portland and LA Galaxy. Vermes' side has yet to win three consecutive league games this year, so another victory on Saturday just might be the catalyst for a late-season surge.