Kansas City approached Sunday’s game with D.C. United with equal parts ambition and self-preservation.
Ambition because a victory would see them take another significant jump up the table and solidify their playoff position. Self-preservation because a loss to United would allow a rapidly rising rival to do the very same thing at Sporting’s expense.
“They win this game, and they can leap us,” Kei Kamara said. “We couldn’t let that happen.”
Kansas City didn’t, making the most out of Kamara’s first-half goal to collect all three points and take hold of sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference in the process.
But while everyone else was busy studying the ever-shifting table and looking over the schedule in search of future six-pointers, Manager Peter Vermes said he just remained focused on prolonging what has become a remarkable charge up the League table.
“We just have to stay focused on Sporting,” Vermes said. “If we do that, things will come our way. That’s the most important thing at the moment. All the other teams, all due respect, they don’t matter in regards to what we have to do.”
Still, it’s hard not to notice how far Kansas City (9-7-9) has come since their early road trip and how well things have fallen into place in regards to earning a playoff berth.
Sporting is now just four points behind the first-place Columbus Crew with six of their last nine games coming at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, including one against Robert Warzycha’s team on September 28. Kansas City, which is 6-1-4 at LSP this season, will also meet potential playoff contenders Houston, Philadelphia and New York at home before the end of the season.
Each of those matches will be crucial opportunities for Sporting to take points from direct rivals as the season wears down. The chance to do that in front of their own fans makes them even more special.
“They aren’t going to be easy games because this is the point where everyone wants to get points,” Kamara said. “All we have to keep doing is use our fans as our 12th man to keep helping us get those points.”
And if they can continue on their current track, it might be time to start thinking about more then just making the playoff field.
“With nine games left, (winning the Eastern Conference title) is absolutely something that we can shoot for, especially because six out of those nine are at home,” Graham Zusi said. “It’s not out of the question at all.”
But, within reach or not, it’s still just a blip in the distance.
For now, Kansas City was content to enjoy a second-straight victory and the feeling that comes with seeing their name in second place for the time being.
“The most important thing today was the three points,” Omar Bravo said. “We got that. We climbed up the table. Hopefully, we can stay up there.”