KANSAS CITY, Kan. – When you're on top of your conference and trying to stay that way, every match – especially in front of a sold-out home crowd – is a big match.
That's Sporting Kansas City's attitude, at least, going into Saturday's key Eastern Conference meeting with second-place D.C. United (8:30 pm ET; MLSsoccer.com Stream of the Week)
"We look at every home match for the rest of the season as an opportunity to win the game," center back and captain Matt Besler told MLSsoccer.com after Friday's training session at Sporting Park, "so that's going to be our mindset."
Winning Saturday's match would put Sporting five points clear of United atop the standings – although D.C. have a match in hand – and guarantee a double-digit gap between first and third place no matter how the weekend's other matches go.
“It's a massive game, in terms of the table,” forward Soony Saad said during the club's weekly news conference on Friday. “It could go either way after the weekend's over. But we know we are playing at home, and we'll have the whole stadium behind us. We have our style of football that we play over here, and we're looking forward to possession-oriented, attacking football, and we want to score goals.”
Sporting's matter-of-fact approach shouldn't be taken for a blasé attitude, Besler said.
“It's not like we don't know what's at stake,” he said. “We understand that we and D.C. have separated ourselves a little bit from that third place, and we understand that it's an opportunity for us to separate ourselves from D.C. But it still doesn't change our approach. It really doesn't.”
Manager Peter Vermes also isn't getting caught up in the first-v-second hype.
“The biggest game is always the next game, in sports,” he said earlier in Friday's news conference. “So this is no different from what our last game was. That was our biggest game, because it was the next one. That's really all I can say – it's an important game because it's the next one for us.”
Saad credited Vermes with keeping the club's attention focused on their own game and not on the standings.
“Peter does a good job of keeping us in the same mindset with everyone we play,” he said. “We have the same mindset, and that's to play our style of football and to not really look at the opponent as anyone. That's not a respect thing. We respect anyone we play, but when it comes down to it, we're going to play our style of football no matter who it is.”
Keeping that even keel, emotionally, has helped Sporting navigate a season filled with injuries and international absence – and still lead the East despite never fielding the same lineup twice through their first 24 matches.
“That is a little surprising, given the World Cup earlier this year, the injuries that we had, the dilemmas that we had at the center back position, but we've coped with it well,” Saad said. “That only proves that we're a team with a lot of depth that can really do damage at our full potential. I still think that we've yet to reach that, but we're definitely playing some good soccer now.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.