KANSAS CITY, Mo. — According to the schedule, Sporting Kansas City head into their last significant road swing of the year with two away dates in four days.
According to the players, it’s not quite that way. The focus is very much on the first match, on Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls (7 pm ET, live stream on MLS LIVE). The Red Bulls are currently third in the Eastern Conference, but only two points back of leaders Sporting.
“Obviously, we're trying to get three points,” center back Matt Besler told MLSsoccer.com. “We never try to get just one point from anywhere. We're certainly aware of the threat that New York brings, especially at home. They're a very good team, so we're going to have to be cautious on the defensive end. But at the same time, we're going for three.”
After New York, Sporting can turn their attention to Montreal, whom the play on Saturday. It will be a good chance at three points they will probably need when all is said and done.
A year ago, Sporting finished first in the Eastern Conference with 51 points. Last week’s draw with Houston saw them match that total in 2012. But this year, depending on how things shake out down the stretch, that number might not even be good for a seat at the grownups' table come playoff time. The top six teams in the conference are on 42 points or better, and all of those but Houston have six games still to play.
“We knew it wasn't going to be easy,” Besler said. “We've been at the top for the entire season, so there's a little more pressure with five or six teams still in the hunt.”
Sporting have handled the pressures of playing on the road better than any other team this season, though, with a league-best 7-4-2 record away from Livestrong Sporting Park.
“The big thing will be the travel, the recovery, the travel again and then getting ready for the next game,” manager Peter Vermes said. “We've been on that roller coaster before. We're not new to it. We'll just have to make sure that everybody's ready to go and play. We just have to be alert and concentrated for 90-plus minutes, especially with this first game against New York.”
The tight race makes for a postseason atmosphere in the closing weeks of the regular season.
“At the end of the season, every game's a playoff game,” he said. “So everything's heightened. Everybody, players and officials, needs to be on their 'A' game when they go into these clashes, if you will.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.