We Kansas City sports fans have become acclimated to mediocrity, but this year's Sporting team can frustrate even us. There are teams that manage to be generally meh over the course of a season, finding their way to a middle-of-the-pack finish by losing to the good teams and beating the bad teams. Sporting has clinched their mid-table finish this season by being better than the good teams and worse than the bad teams. Tonight's 0-2 loss to the Colorado Rapids sums up the season nicely. It's a mighty peculiar way to be mediocre.
We won the US Open Cup this year, which is kind of a big deal. The trophy even showed up at Sporting Park tonight. Unfortunately, the highlight of the night came before kickoff. Still, winning big, shiny trophies is something good teams do. Nevertheless, we've managed to be mediocre while winning a big, shiny trophy.
The league results for this season chart an erratic path to a mediocre record. There's a draw against the New York Redbulls, one potential Supporters' Shield winner, and a win to go with a loss to FC Dallas, the other potential Supporters' Shield winner, which makes for a more than respectable record against the best in MLS. Meanwhile, there are multiple wins over a very good Vancouver Whitecaps side, a win over what used to be a good Seattle Sounders team, a win over what is now a good Montreal Impact team (even if that came pre-Drogba), a win in Toronto, and an excellent series of results against a more than decent Portland Timbers team. With that record, all Sporting had to do was take care of business against one or two bad teams, and their spot in the playoffs would be assured.
Alas, this Sporting team is congenitally unable to take care of business against bad teams. We saw that again tonight. They've drawn once and lost twice to a bad Real Salt Lake team. They single-handedly kept San Jose in the playoff hunt by losing to the Earthquakes twice. They lost at Orlando when they were missing Kaka. The Rapids have now beaten us twice. Winning any of those matches would have Sporting safely in the playoffs already; turning even one of those losses to San Jose into a draw would have clinched a playoff berth. But since Sporting didn't take care of business against the bottom of the league, the team's stuck in the middle of the league.
There's still a lot of ways for Sporting to make the playoffs. Beat the LA Galaxy on Sunday and Sporting is in no matter what San Jose does. If San Jose loses at Dallas, Sporting is in no matter what they do against LA. If both Sporting and San Jose draw, Sporting is in. If Sporting loses and San Jose draws, the tie breakers get ugly; if Sporting loses or ties and San Jose wins, the tie breakers won't matter.
Sporting controls its own playoff destiny, so there's no choice but to go all-in on beating the defending MLS Champs. If LA was a bad team, I wouldn't like our chances at winning, but since the Galaxy are a very good team, Sporting just might pull off a victory.