The end is on the horizon for Major League Soccer's seemingly never-ending regular season.* With about six weeks left and with most teams hovering around just seven games remaining, the final push for playoff position is in full swing.
*began all the way back on March 10! Comparatively, baseball's regular season began 18 days after MLS and ends in September!
In the Eastern Conference, the race will come down to the wire almost assuredly. Sporting Kansas City holds a very narrow lead in the Eastern Conference - with very little margin for error.
There are seven teams within 11 points of Kansas City, with only Toronto FC officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Let's look at the current table (sorted by points), with the top five teams representing the playoff teams at the moments.
1. Kansas City: 50 (7 games left)
2. Chicago: 47 (7)
3. New York: 46 (7)
4. Houston: 45 (6)
5. Columbus: 42 (7)
_______________________________ 6. D.C. United: 41 (7)
7. Montreal: 39 (5)
8. Philadelphia: 26 (9)
9. New England: 28 (6)
10. Toronto: 21 (6)*
*Officially eliminated from playoff contention.
While Kansas City controls pole position, there will be plenty teams nipping at their heels. Many that will face KC directly.
Over its last seven games, Kansas City are faced with a difficult stretch of six matches against playoff contenders starting tonight with Houston.
After that, Sporting has a difficult road trip to New York (Sept. 19) and Montreal (Sept. 22) before NBC Sports primetime match with Chicago (Sept. 28) and road trips to Columbus (Oct. 7) and back to New York (Oct. 20). The only match against a non-playoff contender is the season finale against Philadelphia (Oct. 24).
How many points will KC be able to pull from that rough slate? I think 11 points is generous (wins over Houston, Montreal and Philadelphia; one draw with New York and one with Chicago) over the closing stretch. But, given the relatively easy schedules for the Red Bulls and Fire (comparatively), Sporting might have to do little bit better.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
If you can't make it out, the match will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
As if you didn't think the game was already big enough, MLS Commissioner Don Garber tweeted out that this is expected to be the largest crowd ever at Livestrong Sporting Park.
The largest crowd at LSP in its short history was the MLS Eastern Conference finals last November against, yep, you guessed it, the Houston Dynamo. The announced attendance: 20,839. So, will it topple the 21,000 mark?
The largest crowd for a 2012 match was back on June 16 against Toronto. Announced attendance: 20,488.
One more cool attendance note. Sporting KC have hit the 20,000-fan mark at Livestrong Sporting Park seven times. Four of those have occurred this season.
Kansas City has failed to win against the Dynamo over the last three matches, going 0-2-1.
Forward Jacob Peterson is expected to make his return to the team tonight after missing about a month with a shoulder sprain.
Teal Bunbury (ACL tear) and Cyprian Hedrick (fibula fracture) are the only Sporting players listed as out. Bobby Convey (hamstring strain) is still doubtful.
Chance Myers and Roger Espinoza are on notice -- both are one yellow card away from an automatic suspension.
Houston will be without KC killer Calen Carr (suspended).
Adam Moffatt (adductor strain) is Houston's only injury as of Friday morning and he's listed as doubtful.
Does Jacob Peterson move immediately into the lineup? Does Peter Vermes stick with the industrious midfield of Julio Cesar, Paulo Nagamura and Roger Espinoza? Does Graham Zusi get a rest after a busy week with the U.S. national team? Is C.J. Sapong going to get another start despite being mostly ineffective last time out?
I think the answers are: No, absolutely, absolutely not and I hope so. Here's my predicted Starting XI.
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Julio Cesar, Paulo Nagamura, Roger Espinoza; FWD: Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara.
I'd expect that Vermes could have a quick trigger finger and bring on Peterson if a) Zusi looks gassed or b) Sapong continues to be ineffective -- he can move Kamara centrally.
SUBS: Eric Kronberg; Michael Harrington, Neven Markovic, Lawrence Olum; Oriol Rosell; Soony Saad, Jacob Peterson
That bench is leaving Michael Thomas, Peterson Joseph and Dom Dwyer out of the 18. When completely healthy, KC is sorta deep.
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/09/14...#storylink=cpy