For the second straight weekend, a playoff-clinching result narrowly eluded Sporting Kansas City's grasp. A breathless 1-1 draw at Minnesota United FC felt more like a loss than it did a win, especially given the visitors' late and relentless siege on the Loons' goal.
Nevertheless, Manager Peter Vermes' men are now in sole possession of second place in the West with a game in hand on almost everyone in the conference. One point from Sporting KC's final three games would guarantee a club-record seventh straight playoff appearance, while six points — and potentially less, when all is said and done — would ensure a top-two finish and a knockout-round bye.
And for further signs of encouragement, look no further than Sporting KC's central forward, who bounced back with a strong performance on Saturday after his team was shut out the previous weekend against first-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Diego Rubio fired home in the 47th minute at TCF Bank Stadium, recording his sixth goal in MLS and his seventh in all competitions this season. Each tally has come since the start of July, when the 24-year-old Rubio transitioned to a regular starter. Since then, the Chilean has anchored a "scoring by committee" approach, with the likes of Daniel Salloi, Latif Blessing and Gerso also making valuable contributions.
"He’s been really good for us," Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said of Rubio after the match. "He’s creating good partnerships with the guys around him and has found success putting the ball in the back of the net here and there. Now we just have to do it a little more."
SPORTING KC GOALS IN ALL COMPETITIONS
(Since July 1, 2017)
Indeed, over the last three months, Rubio's scoring rate is indicative of a forward who can lead his side deep into the postseason — especially with a productive supporting cast. His 0.67 goals per start clip since July 1 is eighth-best across the league among players with at least nine starts.
MLS GOALS PER START SINCE JULY 1
(Regular season, minimum 9 starts)
|Josef Martinez (ATL)||1.00||11||11|
|David Villa (NYC)||0.91||10||11|
|Diego Valeri (POR)||0.79||11||14|
|Ignacio Piatti (MTL)
Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY)
|Sebastian Giovinco (TOR)||0.72||8||11|
|Clint Dempsey (SEA)||0.70||7||10|
|Diego Rubio (SKC)
Abu Danladi (MIN)
|Teal Bunbury (NE)||0.64||7||11|
If Saturday revealed anything, it's that Rubio has the faith of his head coach and a scoring touch to match. But while the player himself takes confidence in finding the back of the net, the greater objective lies in the team's success.
"I always say, of course I am the striker, I need to score goals. But I always say we have (a lot of) guys and they are going to be so important every time," Rubio said postgame. "We’re not in the playoffs yet, so I don’t want to speak about (who scores). I want to speak about the next game. And if we win the next game, and if we win the next game."
Sporting KC's next game comes Wednesday against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium, kicking off at 7 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City. Click here for the team's playoff scenarios entering the final three matches of the regular season.