Nothing about Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to New York City FC at rainy Yankee Stadium was particularly pretty.
Showers poured down on the narrow pitch for 90 minutes as Jack Harrison's late volley was enough to give the hosts all three points in a cagey interconference battle.
It was a disappointing result for a Sporting Kansas City side that was playing its first match in 18 days and missed the opportunity to reclaim first place in the Western Conference.
But with 26 MLS matches in the books, Manager Peter Vermes' men remain on course to reach multiple major objectives they set forth at the beginning of 2017.
At the forefront, Sporting KC will play for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title on Sept. 20. The Open Cup competition has always been highly revered in Kansas City and will give the club an opportunity to take home $250,000 in prize money as well as a berth in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
Secondly, Vermes' side is still on pace for a top-two finish in the Western Conference. Although they occupy third place in the table, the team's 1.54 points per game are the second-best clip in the West behind Seattle's 1.56.
Below is a look at Sporting KC's point totals through 26 matches over the last four seasons. Needless to say, the numbers paint a positive picture heading into the stretch run of 2017.
The 2013 MLS Cup-winning squad had just 39 points at this juncture of the season before catching fire in September and October. A strong finish to this season, bolstered by a potential Open Cup title, would put Sporting KC in position to earn a knockout-round bye and do something they haven't done since 2013: host a home playoff game.
SPORTING KC THROUGH 26 MLS MATCHES (2013-2017)
|2013||11-9-6||39||6-1-1||Won MLS Cup|
|2014||12-8-6||42||2-5-1||Lost in Knockout Round|
|2015||11-7-8||41||3-4-1||Lost in Knockout Round|
|2016||10-11-5||35||3-2-3||Lost in Knockout Round|
What might have been overlooked in Wednesday's loss was the fact that Sporting KC came within six minutes of being the first team to shut out NYCFC at Yankee Stadium this season. Harrison's back-breaker in the 84th minute ended those hopes, but it was nonetheless another indicator that Sporting KC has been perpetually tough to break down this year — even when the team isn't clicking on all cylinders.
As the following table illustrates, Sporting KC is still trending toward the second-lowest single-season goals against average in the 22-year history of Major League Soccer. Such stingy teams will always be a tough out come playoff time, as four of the eight clubs listed below (not including 2017 Sporting KC) went on to win MLS Cup that season.
LOWEST GOALS AGAINST AVERAGE: MLS SINGLE SEASON (TEAM)
|0.67||Real Salt Lake||2010||30||20||Lost in Conference Semifinals|
|0.77||Houston Dynamo||2007||30||23||Won MLS Cup|
|0.79||Sporting KC||2012||34||27||Lost in Conference Semifinals|
|0.82||LA Galaxy||2011||34||28||Won MLS Cup|
|0.87||LA Galaxy||2010||30||26||Lost in Conference Finals|
|0.88||Sporting KC||2013||34||30||Won MLS Cup|
|Lost MLS Cup
Won MLS Cup