Games in hand

Sporting Kansas City's match in Vancouver tonight looks like a game we need to win. The standings show Sporting sitting 5 points behind Vancouver and their co-leaders atop the Western Conference, Seattle. We're back in sixth place, clinging to the final and least desirable playoff spot and a mere two points ahead of the seventh place San Jose Earthquakes. At first blush, three points seems like an imperative tonight. The first blush is wrong. We don't need three points tonight.

Due to scheduling oddities and weather, Sporting has played far fewer games than any other team in the Western Conference. We have to play those games eventually, of course, which can be both a good thing (a chance to pick up points!) and a bad thing (too many matches with too few healthy players!). Still, with between three and five games in hand relative to every team ahead of us in the standings we're in pretty good shape. Win all those extra games and we likely finish first in the West. Win some and draw some, and we might still win the West. Even a loss and a few draws would get us into the playoffs easily. If Sporting just keeps playing like they have been, those games in hand will pay off.

The nice thing about having so many games in hand is that Sporting has plenty of options for both the lineup and the tactics tonight. Injured players can be held out to heal. We don't have to throw bodies forward trying to win a game against the league's most lethal counterattacking team--we can sit back and do our own countering if we so desire. Settling for a draw, especially a boring draw without any injuries, would be an outstanding result for the Boys in Blue tonight.

Even if the worst happens and we lose the game, we're going to be okay. Do that too many times, though, and it's no longer true. That's kind of the downside to having games in hand: complacency can set in.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, games in hand are rather like birds in the bush. Two birds in the bush are all well and good, but you have to go catch them; games in hand are reassuring, but you have to earn wins and draws in those games for them to do you any good. I don't think a Peter Vermes' team is likely to forget about earning points in all those games they still have to play, but with so many games in hand right now, it's awful easy to say no one game matters that much. And if you do that too many times, well, those games won't do you any good.

Go, Sporting!