As far as playoff scenarios go, it doesn’t get much more cut and dried than the situation Sporting Kansas City find themselves in this weekend
If Kansas City defeats the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, they’ll lock down a playoff spot with 48 points and one game remaining. If they can’t find a find a way to take three points from Hans Backe’s men, they’ll be forced to wait until the season’s final weekend to wriggle their way into the 10-team field.
And, make no mistake, Manager Peter Vermes has no intentions of letting Sporting’s postseason fate come down to the wire.
“We’ve worked hard, we’ve got ourselves in good position and now it’s time to sign the contract and move on,” Vermes said. “We’ve done all the work. We’ve got to get in the playoffs, and everything else will go from there.”
Even though their fate is far from secure, Sporting is still sitting pretty by most definitions when compared to the eight other teams still vying for six available playoff berths.
Among the remaining contenders, only the Philadelphia Union have more points than Kansas City, and Sporting has the luxury of finishing the season against New York and D.C. United, both of whom are direct competitors.
Most importantly, they have the opportunity to seal the deal tomorrow at LSP, where Kansas City is 8-2-6 this season.
“It’s not a done deal by any means,” captain Davy Arnaud said, “but we know what the standings are. We are in a better position than other teams are in. We’re in a position where we can decide our fate on Saturday at home in front of our fans no matter what anyone else does.”
As Arnaud knows from experience, the sooner Sporting can manage to lock down a spot in the postseason, the better it is for everyone involved. Late-season playoff pushes have fallen on both ends of the spectrum for the club in recent years.
In 2006, Kansas City led New York by two points with one game remaining when the two teams met at Giants Stadium to decide who the final Eastern Conference qualifier would be. The then-Wizards lost 3-2, sitting at home while the Red Bulls faced off against D.C. United in the conference semifinals.
In 2007 and 2008, Kansas City needed victories against Dallas and New England to close out each season in order to sneak into the playoffs. They won both games and got some help along the way, earning wild card spots by a matter of a few points.
“If you go back and look, every year there is this bunching up at the end and this mad dash to secure points,” Vermes said.
The hope is that this season, Kansas City will be able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack before things get really desperate.
In theory, the math is simple; win and Sporting will be in with a week to spare, leaving them with plenty of time to take a deep breath before the postseason starts in earnest.
Still, as Arnaud is well aware, any and all playoff talk is decidedly premature.
“We’ve got to get in first,” he said.