Haves & have-nots: Sporting Kansas City count themselves among MLS elite after confident start

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One of MLS' biggest selling points, as well as one of its biggest challenges, is the parity created by the single-entity league's salary cap and other roster regulations. But as Dom Dwyer sees it, Sporting Kansas City are one of the league's “haves” despite those constraints.

“In the Premier League – or in Europe, let's say – you have the top four teams that are the powerhouses with all the money, as you say,” the English center forward told reporters on Thursday during the team's weekly news conference. “And then there's the other teams who kind of filter in here and there. I'd say that we are – in my eyes, we're one of those top four teams.”

Sporting have the numbers to back up that assertion. Since rebranding and moving into Sporting Park in 2011, they have one MLS Cup, one US Open Cup and two regular-season finishes atop the Eastern Conference standings. The defending MLS Cup champs also are the only U.S.-based team making a return trip to the CONCACAF Champions League this year.

“Consistently, through the last three or four years, we've been near the top, if not the top team,” Dwyer said. “And I'd say now that we're kind of – let's say there's a pack of other teams – breaking ourselves out forward, to being that team other people want to play and say, 'They're the champions. We want to play them. We want to beat them. Let's try to get something out of this game.'”

Sporting KC sit third in the East after five matches, but they also haven't lost in their last four. And two weeks ago, in their most recent outing, only a brilliant night in goal from Real Salt Lake's Jeff Attinella forced Sporting KC to settle for a scoreless draw and denied them a three-match winning streak going into Saturday's home date with last-place Montreal (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

“Obviously, you know teams who are in form right now and not so much in form right now,” Dwyer said. “You see Montreal's at the bottom of our conference right now, but they're a team that deserves to be on the bottom right now. It's little results, little performances. I would say that we're a team that's in better form, and we are at a better place in the league right now. It's all in how you perceive things.”

Saturday's match is also Sporting's first against an East opponent, and manager Peter Vermes said that raises the stakes.

“Obviously, I always say every game's important, and I believe that,” Vermes said during Thursday's news conference. “But there's more weight to the ones in conference, because when you steal those three points from that team, or you steal any points from that team, those are points that they can't get unless they go somewhere else and do it. They're not getting them from you.

“So I think those matchups are extremely important in the way that our league functions and how you qualify for the playoffs.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.

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