KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With half of the 2011 season in the books, Sporting Kansas City and their fans have already run through the full gamut of emotions.
They’ve gone through the lowest of lows, stuck on the road and in last place while suffering through a debilitating losing streak. They’ve gone through the highest of the highs as well, with the cathartic opening of Livestrong Sporting Park after 15 long years, turning their season around with an 11-match unbeaten streak in all competitions in the process.
Coincidentally enough, Sporting will start the second half of their season the same way they began the first: by taking on Chivas USA (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET, Galavisión). This time, it’ll be at home instead of on the road, and as nearly a complete different team than the one that defeated the Goats 3-2 on opening day.
“We were probably a little undisciplined then,” defender Matt Besler said. “'Disciplined’ is probably the word that best describes our team right now.”
And with discipline came success. So much so that Kansas City (5-6-6) find themselves tied for what would be the final playoff spot if the season ended today.
Fortunately for manager Peter Vermes and his charges, it doesn’t — and SKC’s final 17 games are lined up perfectly for them to continue what is now the second-longest unbeaten run in club history. Sporting will play 10 of their next 11 league games at Livestrong Sporting Park, where they are 2-0-2 so far, and venture out on the road just four more times in 2011.
And after enduring a difficult 10-game road trip to start the season, Kansas City know they essentially hold the keys to their future. If they perform at home, the playoffs — and maybe even the Eastern Conference title — should be within reach.
“We had a rough spell for a little while, but the guys stayed committed to what we were trying to do,” Vermes said. “I think we have a solid foundation to build from, and we put ourselves in a good position in the second half of the season to really make a run for a playoff spot. The whole idea was to make sure we were in a position to do that at the end of the first half of the season, and we’re right at that place.”
Of course, they have to keep winning in order to make their goals a reality, starting against Chivas. But, as Besler said, this isn’t the same team that lined up at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on March 19.
“We realized what it takes to win,” Besler said. “That’s being tuned in at the back, playing safe at times if you need to, and all working together defensively. The rest will kind of take care of itself with the offensive weapons we have.”
And despite the confidence that has come with winning six of their last 11 games with five draws sprinkled in, Sporting are also realistic. They know their fortunes can go back down just as quickly as they rose.
“By no means have we rescued the season yet,” Besler said. “There is still a lot of work to be done. We’ve done a good job getting back to where we are, but we can’t take our foot off the gas.”
To keep things in perspective and his team motivated, Vermes has taken to calling for his team to simply focus on the next 45 minutes in front of them. In this case, that means all eyes are on the first half against Robin Fraser’s Chivas USA.
“Chivas is a good possession team, and they’ve become much more organized defensively,” Vermes said. “They have a sense of confidence-building as well. It’s going to be up to us to disrupt all of that as much as we can, and make them feel us since they are playing in our place.”