KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This time of the year, the clichés flow fast and free.
From top to bottom, each and every team is focused on taking things one game at a time. And, based on quote sheets and press conference sound bites, the only thing anyone seems to be worried about is themselves.
But beneath the thinly veiled attempts to defuse pressure and avoid bulletin board material exists a universal truth: Sporting Kansas City players and coaches are paying as much attention to the table as the rest of us.
“That thing is right above our heads when we’re eating breakfast every morning,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “You see it, we know where we’re at and we know who we have coming up.”
As one of only four teams in action this weekend, Kansas City know they have a chance to make the jump up the table that eluded them last weekend, even if it won’t be an easy task by any definition.
Sporting will take on the league-leading LA Galaxy at Livestrong Sporting Park on Monday evening (6 pm ET, Fox Soccer) in a match that could go a long way toward helping them forget dropping what appeared to be a sure three points against FC Dallas last weekend.
“We’ve had to learn some really hard lessons,” manager Peter Vermes said, “sometimes our fault and sometimes not.”
As much as blowing a 2-0 lead against FCD stung, Sporting’s stumble went nearly unpunished by the rest of a toothless Eastern Conference. Columbus got blown out by Seattle, Houston lost to Vancouver while Philadelphia and D.C. United were out of action, leaving Vermes’ squad in second place for another week at least.
“We’re in the same position we were last week,” Vermes said. “Nothing has really changed, which is pretty incredible.”
Despite that stroke of good fortune, Kansas City know they still sit in a tenuous position. The Union and DC both have two games in hand and trail by two and five points respectively, and the Red Bulls and Dynamo are lurking in the background as well.
But despite the logjam, Arnaud — who could return to action this weekend for the first time since July — and his teammates will hold their destiny in their own hands.
Sporting have remaining games at home against Philadelphia, New York, Columbus and Houston before finishing the season at RFK against United.
First, however, comes a massive opportunity against the Galaxy and a chance to hit the final stretch on the right foot.
“We’ve got it all ahead of us,” Arnaud said, “and we’ve got it all to play for.”
Donovan to play a role after all
Asked midweek if he felt fortunate to avoid facing Landon Donovan on Monday, Vermes said he thought there was a good probability the Galaxy forward wouldn’t join his US teammates in Belgium, making him available against Kansas City.
Turns out, Vermes was right on the money.
Although Sporting will be without Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and Shavar Thomas due to national-team commitments, LA will still be able to call on Donovan. The Galaxy won’t have recent signing Robbie Keane, who is away with Ireland, but the threat on both sides of the ball that Donovan provides will be on the forefront of Kansas City’s minds.
“He’s a big player for them,” Vermes said. “He can change their game a lot. That’s what we’re going to have to be very much cognizant of. He can get behind you. He can play underneath. He recovers well. He can give the final pass. He’s one of the best players in the league.”