ATLANTA — A month is an eternity in Major League Soccer, and perhaps no team is more aware of this at the moment than Sporting Kansas City.
Turning the calendar back to the last week of June, everything looked rosy for Sporting. The team boasted the second highest point total in the league, tied for most points-per-game in the league at 2, and sat atop the Western Conference standings.
By today’s MLS All-Star Game presented by Target (7:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás, TSN, TVAS), Sporting KC’s outlook is on much shakier ground. The team is winless in its last five league matches, losing four. On top of that, the defending U.S. Open Cup champions were unseated in the quarterfinals by the Houston Dynamo. SKC now sits in a more perilous fifth place in the Western Conference, clinging hold of its playoff position by only four points.
While they know the need for a turnaround is sooner rather than later, Sporting Kansas City players represented at the 2018 All-Star Game are remaining calm and looking to build on the positive performances from earlier this season.
“Almost every single team goes through peaks and valleys in a season,” said Sporting veteran Graham Zusi. “We happen to be in a valley right now, but we're certainly looking to climb out of it. I think if we can finish the season on a strong note, that can propel us through the playoffs.”
The MLS Cup Playoffs have proven to be a competition well-suited to teams with momentum and riding a wave of form. Just ask the 2016 Seattle Sounders, a 4-seed who won MLS Cup after recovering from wallowing in the depths of the Western Conference standings midseason.
SKC midfielder Ilie Sanchez said the team is calm because it has always proven an ability to score enough goals to win games. In their current five-game winless stretch, SKC have still managed to score at least two goals in four of the five games. They just have to figure out how to keep the opposition at bay.
“Sporting has been, for many years, a very good defensive team, especially with possession,” Sanchez said. “We have to go back to our strength—having the ball and defending with the ball and also being good in the defensive actions. Then, we can focus on scoring goals. But we need to get back to our essence.”
While the All-Star Game compresses the schedule for players like Zusi and Sanchez and makes things more difficult physically, Sanchez said that maybe they can use it as a mental boost to recharge themselves for the stretch run of the season.
“[The All-Star Game] comes in the right moment for us,” said Sanchez. “It's an opportunity for us to take this break and bring new vibes to the team... I hope we can bring [Sporting KC] a different mentality when we get back.”