KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Their first priority is securing a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, then making a push for their first appearance in an MLS Cup final since 2004. Still, Sporting Kansas City's players say they haven't given up on making a late challenge for the Supporters' Shield.
“When it's there, you have to take a shot at it,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday.
Sporting are on 48 points with four matches left, starting with Saturday's away day to Columbus (7:30 pm ET; MLS Live), and fifth in the Shield standings.
“I think it's tough, but I'm kind of a mathematical guy, so I thought about two or three games ago that 60 points would win the Supporters' Shield,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “So if we win all four games, we're at 60 points. I think it's still within reach. Obviously, it's going to depend on other teams and their results, but we're focused on getting our points.
"If we can win [the Shield], then we win [the Shield]. If not, then we've got to get the best seeding in the East that we can.”
Kansas City, who won their only Supporters' Shield as the Wizards in 2000 – on the way to their only MLS Cup title – haven't won more than three games in a row this season.
“I think it's a lot about mentality. But having said that, it's not easy in this league to put four in a row up,” Feilhaber said. “We do feel confident that we can win against any team in this league, and I think not only is it about going in mentally ready to every game and not making mistakes, but you've also got to get a little luck. There's a lot of even teams in this league.
“It's going to be about getting chances, putting the ball in the net and keeping them away from our own net,” he added. “Then maybe we have to get some luck, too.”
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Sporting have outscored the Crew 6-2 in two previous meetings this season, including a 3-0 home rout on Sept. 7, but Columbus are 3-0 with nine total goals since then and have climbed within a point of the fifth and final playoff spot in the East.
That might not be a bad thing, Nielsen said.
“They're playing with a lot of confidence, and they'll be playing at home,” he said. “Hopefully they'll want to come and drive the game, because I think that's what fits us best, when other teams want to attack us a little bit. That gives us some space, and we can play behind their back four.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.