After finishing atop the Western Conference regular season standings, Sporting Kansas City will look to punctuate an unprecedented 2020 campaign by winning silverware on Major League Soccer's greatest stage. The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs will see Sporting join an expanded field of 18 clubs, all of which have their sights firmly set on hoisting the MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
In order to claim the ultimate prize, Sporting Kansas City must navigate a single-elimination bracket packed with in-form teams. The first step is a Round One showdown with the No. 8 seed San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, Nov. 22, at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. CT with live coverage on FS1 and FOX Deportes and tickets available at SeatGeek.com (general public on-sale begins Nov. 12 at noon CT).
As postseason anticipation continues to build, SportingKC.com is rolling out a 12-day countdown to the club's opening playoff match, offering a comprehensive preview of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. From key storylines and positional breakdowns to history lessons and community initiatives, our Countdown to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will highlight the many reasons to be pumped for Sporting’s pursuit of another MLS Cup title. To visit the series homepage as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/playoffcountdown.
Before we look forward, let's take a look back.
From a red-hot start in late February and early March, to a pandemic-induced four-month hiatus, to a wild and unprecedented MLS is Back Tournament in Disney World, to a breathless run of matches back in home matches throughout the fall...
...let's ask the question. Was this the best regular season in Sporting Kansas City history?
By some metrics, no. For example, COVID-19 challenges have resulted in a shortened match schedule and prevented Sporting from welcoming their traditional sell-out crowds to Children's Mercy Park.
By other metrics, yes. Look no further than the fact that Sporting finished atop the Western Conference standings with 1.86 points per match. That's the best clip in club regular season history.
SPORTING KC: MOST POINTS PER GAME IN CLUB HISTORY
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|2012||63||34||1.853||Lost in Conference Semifinals|
|2018||62||34||1.824||Lost in Conference Finals|
|2000||57||32||1.781||Won MLS Cup|
|2013||58||34||1.706||Won MLS Cup|
In many ways, 2020 has become an on-field redemption story for Manager Peter Vermes' side. Last year, Sporting saw their club-record eight-year playoff streak come to an end after an 11th-place finish in the West and a 22nd-place finish in the Supporters' Shield table. Fast-forward to now, Sporting has pulled off the largest year-over-year improvement in Major League Soccer's 25-year history with a jump from 11th to first in the West and 22nd to third in the Shield race.
SUPPORTERS’ SHIELD STANDINGS: BIGGEST YEAR-OVER-YEAR IMPROVEMENTS
|18||Sporting Kansas City||2019 to 2020||21st to 3rd|
|17||Colorado Rapids||2015 to 2016||19th to 2nd|
|17||Chicago Fire||2016 to 2017||20th to 3rd|
|17||Orlando City SC||2019 to 2020||22nd to 5th|
|16||D.C. United||2013 to 2014||19th to 3rd|
|16||Columbus Crew SC||2019 to 2020||20th to 4th|
Sporting's momentous achievement was a fitting reward for the adversity and unpredictability that players and coaches faced over the course of the year. The 2020 regular season had the earliest start date on Feb. 29, the latest end date on Nov. 8, and required clubs to start and stop no less than three times in between.
For Vermes specifically, 2020 has offered a clear reminder of his consistency over the last decade. Over the last 10 seasons, he has won an MLS Cup, three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups and finished first in the conference standings on four occasions. No other MLS coach has more than two first-place conference finishes during that time.
Now, we would be remiss not to mention the fact that Sporting reached the Wester Conference summit thanks in large part to a variety of standout performers on the pitch.
The likes of Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda, Khiry Shelton, Roberto Puncec and Khiry Shelton—all of whom were acquired during a defining offseason that led into 2020—have all made unmistakable impacts. So, too, have numerous veterans—Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Erik Hurtado and Johnny Russell among them—and several emerging Academy products such as Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Felipe Hernandez and Cam Duke.
Add it all up, and it becomes plain to see that Vermes has leveraged a deep and well-balanced roster to orchestrate one of the finest regular season campaigns in Kansas City's 25-year MLS existence.
“It’s not hard to see when you’re clicking and guys are moving off the ball and you’re comfortable out there. That’s what the guys look like at the moment," Vermes said during an interview with Sports Radio 810 WHB last week. “The easiest way to say it is we’re ruthless in defense and relentless in the attack. That’s what I would say. That’s who we are.”
Asked if this was one of the best Sporting teams he has coached, the 12th-year manager spoke glowingly about his current side but acknowledged that winning a trophy would go a long way in answering the question.
“This is a really good group,” Vermes said. “I would say it’s right up there. We have to go and try to win something, and that’s always a deciding factor when you look at each of your teams.
“All of these things are coming together at a really good time. It’s a very good team and one of the better team’s we’ve had here. We are coming into good form at the right time.”
Indeed, there is not better time to be hitting top form than during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. But regardless of Sporting's postseason fate, it seems safe to say that the 2020 regular season will go down as one of the club's very best.