Sporting Kansas City are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and they're deserving of the honor after a red-hot run of form to close out the season.
However, fans of other teams in the West who wanted to stir the pot might contend that part of SKC's high finish on the table was, at least in part, due to a friendlier path there compared to some of the other top teams in the conference.
To close out the season, Sporting played three of their last four games against FC Cincinnati, Real Salt Lake and Chicago Fire FC — all teams that missed the playoffs. Due to travel restrictions, SKC never had to play No. 2 seed Seattle or No. 3 seed Portland or an LAFC side that remains a daunting opponent despite their struggles earlier in 2020, and all those teams had to play each other multiple times. So, should that at all diminish from SKC's No. 1 finish? The Extratime crew put it to a debate and Andrew Wiebe wasn't buying it.
"Players can't affect who they play," Wiebe said. "They can't affect that this year is all mixed up and it doesn't make sense. So I felt it was unfair to players in the award process when they survived, thrived, found a way through a pandemic to be top-level, no matter who they were playing. I found it unfair to punish them by saying, 'Oh, well you didn't play Seattle, Portland, San Jose and this, that and the other all year.
"If you're going to do that, you have to go through every game and say who did they rotate, who's dealing with what, is there a COVID outbreak, what was the travel like that day, there are just too many variables. I felt it unfair to punish teams. And sometimes I feel like Sporting KC is being punished because they didn't play the hardest schedule."
When it comes to the reasoning behind why SKC hasn't perhaps given as much credit as your typical No. 1 seed, Matt Doyle said strength of schedule isn't really the issue.
Rather, Doyle said, it's more about the occasionally erratic defensive form, and some unsettled questions regarding their week-to-week lineup that may be causing the narrative to surface. Still, Doyle said the idea of SKC as disrespected or doubted might be overblown, considering they're still the No. 1 seed and widely considered to be a viable contender.
"I don't think punished, they've got the top team," Doyle said. "They're doubted a little bit because they were a terrible defensive team last year. They had moments this year when they were absolutely terrible [on defense]. They made the Dynamo look like prime Real Madrid. They don't have a set back-four. Ilie Sanchez missed a chunk of the season, as did Roger Espinoza. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi got old. So, there's just so many questions, and it feels unsettled for this team. Whereas if you compare them to a Seattle or even a Portland — who had injury issues of their own — or a Philly or a Toronto, despite their injury issues, those teams feel, I guess more settled.
"They feel like you know what you're getting from them and who it's going to come from. And there's still questions as to that with Sporting. I don't think anybody is like, 'Oh, they have no chance."
Watch the clip above and don't forget to check out Monday's show in full, featuring an interview with Philadelphia Union's Supporters' Shield-winning head coach Jim Curtin.