Fans need a yardstick to measure their team's success. The casual fan may have the 'we need to win all of the games' yardstick, and that's fine as far as it goes, but that's not a reasonable expectation--especially for extra-obsessive fans like me. My yardstick for Sporting Kansas City this season is making the play-offs. I suspect that we are going to be up and down for at least the first half of the season even under the best-case scenario. We simply have too many new roster additions to expect much more this season. Throw in unexpected lack of Ike Opara (and figuring out how to replace him in the center of our defense) and the hoped for but not yet realized return of Chance Myers, and this is a team with very little chance of challenging for the best record in MLS overall or the Western Conference. We simply can't expect consistently good results until we get all our squad figured out and then get those guys enough games together to figure each other out.
We might be able to get hot and make some noise in the playoffs, though. We have more than enough talent on our roster to do that. Every team can be dangerous in the playoffs, but Sporting is showing signs of being the kind of team (bursty goal scorers and--maybe?--a stout defense) that spells a particular challenge in an elimination match.
Of course, that ambition requires us to make the playoffs in the first place. Fortunately, six teams in the Western Conference make the playoffs. We simply have to be one of those teams.
That, then, brings me back to how Sporting KC won last night, even though we don't play until tomorrow.
Friday night, Dallas crushed Houston and Salt Lake City drew San Jose. Those results are exactly what I was hoping for. Let's be honest: we aren't likely to catch Dallas in the standings, so--unless they are playing us--Dallas winning doesn't change Sporting's outlook on the season. Houston, Salt Lake, and San Jose (as well as Portland and Colorado, who play today) are the teams we need to be better than this season. Any match where one of those five teams drop points is a good match for Sporting's playoff chances. The more points those teams drop, the better off we are.
Last night was perfect. Houston dropped all the points; they didn't get the three that come with a win, and they didn't even get the one that comes with a draw--they got zero, zip, zilch, nada. As for Salt Lake and San Jose, someone had to get at least a point, and they managed to take as little from the match as possible: a single point apiece. Instead of one of those teams gaining three points on us, they each gained a single slender point while we wait to host Chicago on Sunday.
Of course, the most important thing for Sporting is to collect as many points as possible as the season goes on, preferably three at a time. Tomorrow afternoon will be an excellent opportunity to do just that. The thing is, whether tomorrow in Sporting Park or at other times and places, Sporting is going to drop some points they shouldn't--that's a foregone conclusion with this team. There are too many new players and too many players coming back from injury for it to be any other way. That's why I'm thrilled to see other teams giving us a bit of cushion.
I know what my yardstick is for Sporting this season, and that's just to make the playoffs and then see what happens. Even though it's awfully early in the season to be scoreboard watching, whether Sporting measures up for me this season depends quite a bit on what happens around the league. Last night the rest of the league gave Sporting a win in my book.
And, go, whoever is playing Houston, Salt Lake, San Jose, Portland, and Colorado!