KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Davy Arnaud spends his nights tossing and turning, unable to push Sporting Kansas City’s disappointing start out of his mind.
As captain and the longest-tenured player on the team, Arnaud knows more than most how important this season is for Kansas City as the club introduces its new brand and opens a sparkling new stadium.
And Arnaud also knows Sporting has had difficulty meeting the expectations thus far in 2011.
“When you are going through times like this,” Arnaud said, “you don’t get a lot of sleep. Honestly, I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately. You’re thinking about things at night that you can do better, what the team can do better.”
Burdened by a 1-5-1 record and struggling to find their form seven games into their season-opening road trip, Sporting are starting to feel the pressure of being stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Starting this weekend in Seattle against the Sounders (Saturday, 10 pm ET, MatchDay Live), manager Peter Vermes’ side has three opportunities to reverse their fortunes before returning to Kansas City to christen LIVESTRONG Sporting Park against the Chicago Fire on June 9.
If Sporting can find a way to get a victory or two and a few much-needed points from their next three games (at Seattle, Colorado and Toronto), the pressure they currently face will abate considerably. If not, Sporting will find themselves with their backs to the wall, forced to be close to perfect at home and above average on the road in order to compete for one of 10 available playoff spots.
“I think everybody feels pressure in their job at some point or another,” Vermes said. “It’s just natural. If you’re not, you are not on the edge. I always tell the guys, ‘If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.’ We need to be on the edge. It’s all part of what we do.”
Unfortunately, Sporting are currently teetering on the edge, unable to rediscover the late-season form that allowed them to come within a few points of the playoffs in 2010 and fighting through injuries and unfamiliarity at key positions on the field.
But the news isn’t all dire. Sporting were an identical 1-5-1 through their first seven road games last season, even without the added challenge of all seven coming back-to-back. They are also far more potent in front of goal on the road this season, scoring multiple goals four times through seven games, though production has certainly cooled recently.
Still, it seems that only a result to end their current four-game slide will help Arnaud get some sleep.
“We obviously haven’t had the results that we’ve wanted,” he said. “We’ve lost four games in a row. It’s not by any means where we want to be. Having said that, as much as we can, we have to put that out of our minds. There are two ways that you can go at this point.”
Sporting can easily feel sorry for themselves and slip into a deeper hole — like the 1999 season when they lost all seven of their opening games and finished last in the Western Conference — or they can find a way to feed off the pressure, taking advantage of a home-loaded schedule the rest of the way and the expansion of the playoffs to 10 teams to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Neither scenario is where the club envisioned at this point a few months ago; nevertheless, there is definitely still reason for guarded optimism.
“It’s a big year for us,” Arnaud said. “As the home opener gets closer, we want to get this thing going back the right way. Not only for ourselves but for the owners, the coaches and the fans. We want to give everybody what they deserve. And that’s results.”