KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Here's an odd stat heading into the MLS Cup playoffs: The lower an Eastern Conference's postseason seeding, the better it did against top-seeded Sporting Kansas City during the regular season.
Sporting went 2-0-0 against second-seeded D.C. United and 1-0-2 against third-seeded New York, who will meet in the other East semifinal. Against the two teams who meet in Wednesday night's Knockout Round game to determine Sporting's semifinal opponent, SKC have managed just one win in six tries.
They're 1-2-0 against fourth-seeded Chicago and 0-1-2 against the No. 5-seeded Houston Dynamo, the same team that bounced them 2-0 in last year's Eastern Conference Championship.
But after Tuesday's training session, Sporting players and manager Peter Vermes said the same thing: It's a new season, and they'll be up for whoever the knockout game (9 pm ET; ESPN2, TSN2/RDS2 in Canada; LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com) brings them.
“It's been tough games against both of those teams, Houston and Chicago,” forward Kei Kamara said. “We've just got to be ready for it. Whoever it's going to be, it's an even slate. We play at their place, they play at our place. Those other games are past, and now it's all about getting ready for these games – getting our bodies healthy and getting focused.”
And, Vermes said, any team with championship aspirations will have to win against tough opposition – even if that's a Dynamo team they haven't beaten since Sept. 10, 2011.
“They're a good team,” he said, “but I don't look at it as, 'We haven't beaten them.' I look at it as, 'We have a challenge in front of us, and we'll set up a game plan, and I think we have enough guys that we can perform and execute.'”
So if Sporting are pulling for one side or the other to make it through to Sunday's opening semifinal leg, they're not saying who.
“You know, we've been throwing it around, and it does no good to think about that,” winger Jacob Peterson told MLSsoccer.com. “Each team has their strengths, and both teams have gotten the better of us this year. So it doesn't really matter. We've played both of them three times, and we know what they bring.”
Peterson also brought up another point: One of Chicago's wins and Houston's lone victory in the regular-season series came with Sporting at less than full strength due to red-card ejections.
“Maybe those two games should be thrown out,” he said. “and then it's an even series with both teams.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.