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11/23 FINAL
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11/30 9:20pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Despite good form, Sporting not ready for spotlight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The plaudits are starting to roll in, but Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes doesn’t want his team anywhere near the spotlight just yet.

Kansas City may be unbeaten in eight games (10 in all competitions) and tied for the most productive squad in Major League Soccer since May 22 (4-0-4, 16 points), but Vermes isn’t biting on the suggestion that the rest of the Eastern Conference ought to keep a close eye on Sporting.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near where anyone should be looking at us,” he said. “Those guys are all in the driver’s seat. We’re still just trying to get back into it.”

But for all intents and purposes, Sporting are back in the thick of things and making kind of noise that doesn’t go unnoticed.

After toiling at the bottom of the conference and league table for the better part of two months, SKC have climbed all the way into fourth place and occupy what would be the final playoff spot if the season ended today.

Highlights: Portland 1, Sporting KC 2
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And if that wasn’t encouraging enough, Kansas City’s form has only gotten better after a string of draws to start the streak. They have four victories in their last five league matches and have dominated consecutive US Open Cup ties to advance to the quarterfinals of the competition.

They’ve also found their road form (2-0-3 in their last five matches away from home) and turned into a lockdown defensive team (four goals allowed in their last 10 games). And all this after starting the season 1-6-1 and experiencing what amounted to a serious gut check.

So even though Vermes is hesitant to label his team an up-and-comer until further notice, rookie forward C.J. Sapong said he never had any doubts that this is what Sporting were capable of from Day 1.

“The only difference now is that everybody else thinks we have a chance,” Sapong said. “From the get-go, we knew that we were capable of doing damage in the league. It was just unfortunate that we had to play all those games on the road.

“Everybody at the beginning of the season wanted to say, ‘It’s whatever. We approach it the same way.’ But it’s really tough,” Sapong said of the extended road trip. “It’s a testament now, though. In our last three away games, we’ve gotten two wins and a tie. That’s all stemming from finally getting that win, being at home and having something to work off of.”

And now that Sporting have gotten past that rough stretch, they’ve put themselves in prime position to take advantage of their new home, Livestrong Sporting Park. They only have four road games remaining in 2011 and games in hand on the rest of the league.

“We’re definitely looking to keep climbing up the table,” Sapong said. “We still have games in hand. We’re feeling really good. It’s going to be hard for other teams to stop us.”