KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It may not quite be destiny, but Sporting Kansas City still hold the fate of the Eastern Conference squarely in their own hands.
The playoff field is set, but the nitty-gritty details are still up in the air and none is more important than which team – Kansas City, Columbus, Houston or even Philadelphia – will end up atop of the East and secure home-field advantage en route to MLS Cup.
So while everyone else is busy sorting through different scenarios, all of which hinge on a Sporting draw or loss, Kansas City are focused on just one thing: defeating D.C. United on Saturday (7:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) and putting themselves in the best possible position to end the postseason in Los Angeles.
“In pursuit of winning an MLS championship, I think [home field advantage] is huge,” manager Peter Vermes said. “It’s a big thing for us, especially playing at Livestrong Park.”
Should Kansas City win Saturday night against United, who were eliminated from playoff contention this week, they will finish alone atop the East on 51 points, setting themselves up for the smoothest possible route to the Home Depot Center.
With a victory to finish off the regular season, Sporting would host the second game of a home-and-home series against the Wild Card winner with the best overall record. And if they managed to advance to the conference final, that game would be at Livestrong Sporting Park as well, where Kansas City are 8-2-8 this season.
And even though chatter for the past couple weeks has centered around whether winning the East is really ideal position, Vermes said he doesn’t particularly care who his team plays, especially if Sporting have the benefit of playing the decisive game at home.
“I’ve always been a big believer that you have to beat the best to get there anyway,” Vermes said. “So to try to figure out where we end up or who it would be great to play is really difficult, especially going into this last weekend with so many things that are up for grabs. For us, it’s take what is there in front of you and go win. That’s the easiest concept. It’s not the easiest thing to do.”
Of course, before Kansas City can get too invested in home field advantage, they must earn it against a United side that isn’t likely to have forgotten that their opponent spoiled their own playoff chances two seasons ago.
It certainly won’t be an easy task, especially with word coming out of D.C. that Dwayne De Rosario will likely play a significant role, but one that Sporting handled admirably back in August with a 1-0 triumph at home.
“As long as we go in there with the right mentality,” defender Chance Myers said, “we can take care of business.”
And if Kansas City do manage to take care of business so to speak? As C.J. Sapong put it, that would be yet another high point for a team that started in the gutter and fought their way back to pole position when it mattered most.
“We’re all a family in here,” Sapong said, “and it just strengthened our bond so much more to go from the bottom to the top. We feel like nothing can stop us right now.”