Sporting Kansas City's road to MLS Cup looking harder despite clinching

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City are back in the postseason for a seventh straight year, a streak dating to their rebrand from the old Wizards days and their 2011 move to Children's Mercy Park. But the mood is a bit less than celebratory with one week left in the regular season, as Sporting try to avoid a fourth straight away game in the Knockout Round of the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs – where they've been eliminated every year since winning the MLS Cup title at home in 2013.

Not only that, but they're on a season-long four-match winless streak as they head into Decision Day presented by AT&T with a finale at Real Salt Lake – a team still fighting to get above the playoff line. Sunday night's scoreless draw against the Houston Dynamo was at least good enough to book that seventh consecutive playoff trip.

“Well, it was good we got in the playoffs, but we’ve put ourselves in the position where we’re going to have to fight it out,” manager Peter Vermes said in his postmatch news conference. "We’ll have to wait until the last game like the last couple of years, but unfortunately it’s because of missed chances. That’s what it does to you. If you miss chances and don’t score, that will put you in that position.”

Don't ask whether they're backing in, though. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup holders aren't having any of that, even as they acknowledge the challenges ahead.

“I don’t think we’re backing into the playoffs,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber told reporters. “I think we’re just putting ourselves in a much more difficult path to get to the final. Playing a [knockout round] playoff game, which now seems almost inevitable, and then playing potentially away from home which is – of all the teams in the league, we probably know better than anyone how difficult that can be – so we’re going to do everything we can to win in Salt Lake.

“But having said that means we’ve got to win an away game anyway to get that home game. Either way, we’ve got to win an away game now and we know it’s very difficult in MLS to get those results, but that’s the task that we have in front of us.”

Advancing in the postseason – unless Sporting are counting on consistently winning shootouts after a series of scoreless draws – is going to require goalscoring that has been absent of late.

Over their last four matches, Sporting – who had nine shots saved by Houston's Tyler Deric on Sunday and also hit the woodwork several times – have found the net just twice.

“If you can’t score, it always bothers you,” Vermes said. “But I wouldn’t say that we can’t score; we scored last game (Wednesday's 2-1 away loss to Houston) and we didn’t keep the game. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t get one.

“When you have as many chances as we had, I’m just a little disappointed. We played well, though.”