First things first, the sky is not falling, okay, Sporting Kansas City and Major League Soccer fans? Sporting KC’s perfect run to begin the 2012 season was meant to be no longer, following Saturday night’s 1-0 loss away to Portland Timbers.
As we know, though, nothing lasts forever. Whether it’s the best of times, or the worst of times, it all runs its course, eventually. Heck, if Britney and K-Fed can’t make it, then simply be glad that Sporting won even one game all season. The point being, it was fun. At first, K-Fed’s rhymes – although they were terrible and devoid any semblance of rhythm at all – were kind of cute to the girl that had been given everything, but someone with fortitude enough to make a play for her.
The game away to Portland was always going to be one of the very toughest Sporting would face all season, no matter the Timbers’ current form, for the vaunting home field advantage that is known as JELD-WEN Field. As an aside, I was in attendance on Saturday for this game in the Pacific Northwest, and I can vouch 100 percent for everything ever said of the Timbers Army, Portland’s largest supporters group – they’re even better than anyone has ever found ways to put into words.
The atmosphere is something that many MLS fanbases – Kansas City included, I must say – only dream of at present time. It’s a huge wonder the Timbers home record was just one win from three games for downing Sporting. As the old cliche goes, “when you’re backed into a corner, it’s time to fight and show who you really are,” – or something. And, to fight, the Timbers were ready.
Plenty of solace can still be taken for Sporting fans, though, that the only team to beat them all season didn’t actually beat them; that the only goal in the game was scored by Sporting against themselves, and in a situation of mix-up and confusion. Defender Chance Myers scored a wondrous own goal past goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, one that would make many top-flight strikers proud, if only it had taken place on the opponent’s half of the field.
It’s a loss that stings a bit, yes, but in no way takes much – if any – wind out of the sails of Peter Vermes’ high-speed cruise ship. (My cruise ship does have sails, if you must know) Sporting still sit squarely in the driver’s seat for a second straight Eastern Conference top-place finish, and dependent of what happens in the Western half of the league, also the Supporters Shield, and qualification for the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League, a competition in which Vermes desperately desires to participate.
To further highlight this point, let’s go to the stats:
- Sporting lead the single table league by five points, after just eight games. (21 points, total) Second place San Jose Earthquakes hold a game in hand, but even after that, the lead stands at two, at least. As close as San Jose are from the West, the East is twice as far behind. DC United and New York Red Bulls sit at 12 and 10 points, respectively. They’re already almost double-digit points behind, after just eight games.
- Of the remaining 26 games on Sporting’s schedule, 23 are against Eastern Conference opposition, the division judged to be significantly weaker. In six games against the Western Conference, judged to be significantly stronger, Sporting have already picked up 15 of 18 points possible. If current form holds against the East, (it won’t) it’s not crazy (it is) to think Sporting could take 69 points from their remaining conference games.
- 51 points was good enough for the 2011 MLS Eastern Conference No. 1-seed. Sporting currently posses 41 percent of those 51 points in 2012 – in less than 25 percent of the season’s schedule. It’s not crazy to think (it’s really not this time) that Sporting could have the East wrapped up by early-September, with only a few more points needed to claim Supporters Shield glory.
- Sporting are on pace to score slightly more goals this year (51 at their current rate) than in 2011 (50 goals), and allow a whole lot fewer. (13 this year, versus 40 in 2011) Obviously, that defensive number won’t hold over 34 games, but it’s not at all crazy to think they’ll score upwards of 55 goals this year.
After what’s been a grueling three-games-in-eight-days stretch – one in which Sporting picked up six of nine points, the team gets a two-week break until their next league game, home against the expansion, and second-to-last, Montreal Impact. On May 5, it’s time to start hoarding those points back up again.