Sporting KC: Season on the Brink

Bob Levey

After dominating the regular season, Sporting KC on the verge of playoff elimination Wednesday night.

For one reason or another, the Houston Dynamo have Sporting Kansas Cit's number. Especially in the playoffs.

After being thoroughly dominated at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, a 2-0 loss in the first leg of a two-leg aggregate Eastern Conference semifinals, Sporting Kansas City are once again on the verge of bowing out of the MLS playoffs at the hands (or in this case, feet) of the Houston Dynamo.

Quite frankly, it would be a devastating result, given just how dominate Sporting Kansas City have been this season. If Sporting Kansas City fail to erase their two-goal deficit at Livestrong Sporting Park Wednesday night, there will still be a feeling that this season was a disappointment, despite all of the accomplishments of the regular season.

Second best record in Major League Soccer. First place in the Eastern Conference. Best defense in MLS. All for naught.

The US Open Cup was a nice accomplishment, and it was a big step in the right direction for Sporting Kansas City. They were able to prove that they are capable of winning a big game, and it did mark the first time Kansas City has claimed any kind of championship since the Kansas City Wizards won the same trophy in 2004.

But still, what ultimately matters to the organization and to the fans is the MLS Cup, and for the second consecutive year, Sporting KC may very well fall short of those lofty expectations.

The most puzzling question regarding Sporting Kansas City in the playoffs has been,"Why can't Sporting Kansas City figure out the Houston Dynamo?"

The Dynamo have Sporting Kansas City's number, and they proved it once again on Sunday, scoring two past the league's best defense,and putting Sporting in a precarious situation for the second leg.

Kansas City were unable to defeat Houston in their three regular season match-ups, drawing twice, and losing to the Dynamo 2-1 in July.

Include Sporting KC's 2-0 loss to Houston in the Eastern Conference Final at Livestrong Sporting Park last season, combined with the slew of injuries that have hit Sporting's midfield at the worst possible time, and it's easy to see why most fans might not be feeling very optimistic about the club's chances Wednesday.

Is Houston's two-goal lead insurmountable? Of course not. There's a reason why Sporting Kansas City were one of the top teams in MLS in 2012, and they certainly have the offensive firepower to score two or three goals at Livestrong. Kei Kamara, CJ Sapong, Jacob Peterson, Graham Zusi. The weapons are there, if Sporting KC can finish their chances.

Finishing aside, the bigger issue here may very well be the mental side of the game.

Sporting KC haven't beaten the Dynamo in a long time. That has to have taken it's toll on the psyche of this team. What other explanation is there? Sporting Kansas City is one of the more talented teams in MLS. They are led by one of the better coaches in MLS. They've consistently shown over the last year and a half that they are in the upper echelon of Major League Soccer.

The only question remaining is whether or not Sporting KC can get over the mental hurdle that is the Houston Dynamo.

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