AUSTIN — Sporting Kansas City’s 3-1 loss to Austin FC left the top spot in the conference up for grabs on Decision Day.
No. 2 Sporting KC entered the game with a chance to overtake the No. 1 Seattle Sounders for the top spot and break away from the No. 3 Colorado Rapids.
The three clubs have secured a top-3 finish and now enter Decision Day with seeding on the line.
- Seattle Sounders – 59 points
- Sporting Kansas City – 58 points
- Colorado Rapids – 58 points
Sporting KC’s chance at a first place finish is no longer solely at their feet. Not only will they need a win, they will need help from the Vancouver Whitecaps who play Seattle on Sunday and are fighting to secure their place in the postseason.
If they drop points against Real Salt Lake on Sunday, they will also need the Rapids to lose to LAFC to secure the second seed.
|MLS Standings Tiebreakers|
|Total number of wins|
|Goal Differential (GD) [Goals For – Goals Against]|
|Goals For (GF)|
|Fewest Disciplinary Points|
|Away Goals Differential|
|Away Goals For|
|Home Goals Differential|
|Home Goals For|
|If still two clubs tied – Coin Toss OR If still 3+ clubs tied – Drawing of Lots|
Sporting KC got off to a slow start allowing Austin FC to score in the first minute of the game.
Jared Stroud sent a cross into the area that found Sebastian Driussi for the header to put the last-place hosts up 1-0.
After a yellow card challenge by Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Austin found their second headed goal of the night from a Zan Kolmanic set-piece that found the head of Julio Cascante in the 22nd minute.
“You can’t give up the ball like we did off the kickoff and then receive a goal. They come right down the middle of the field and they wind up scoring. You bring them into the game. The crowd gets into it. They’re into it,” manager Peter Vermes said. “And then we give up a silly set piece goal and then we’re chasing the game. We’re chasing the game from the opening minute of the game. That’s what went wrong.”
Despite controlling a majority of the possession, Sporting KC was unable to keep up with Austin FC’s counter attack, forcing huge defensive efforts from the backline and a few saves from goalkeeper Tim Melia.
In the second half, it was much more of the same. Sporting KC controlled the ball, but a counterattack ended with the ball at Stroud’s feet in the 60th minute leaving him one-on-one with Melia as he slotted it home for the 3-0 lead.
Sporting KC captain Johnny Russell was able to get one back for the visitors in the 65th minute off a Luis Martins cross that found the Scots head and made it past Brad Stuver.
“Coming into this last week of the season and you’re playing for top, to give a team a goal in the first minute and give them a head start – it’s not good enough,” Russell said. “We all know it’s not good enough. There’s no excuse for that. It’s just us switching off as a team and sloppiness as a team.”
Austin’s defense held strong, not allowing Sporting to break them down.
Kansas City ended the game with an 82.5% passing accuracy and more than 200 completed passes than their opponent.
Sporting has played several games with short rest in between and not much rotation among the starting lineup. Questions were raised on whether “tired legs” was a reason for the club dropping points at this point in the season.
“They’re professional athletes. The weather is beautiful. To play a game like this after you played and you play again this weekend, big deal. It’s not tired legs. It’s not tired legs at all. That’s an excuse,” Vermes said. “What do you think the other teams have to do in this league? What do you think they do, change the whole entire team every game? No. Guys have to play in this kind of environment.”
After a tough loss to a team already eliminated from the postseason, Sporting KC now turn their head to Real Salt Lake, a rivalry born from the 2013 MLS Cup championship when Kansas City defeated Salt Lake in a 10-round penalty shootout.
“There should be no lack of motivation for that game. We’re in front of our fans with it all to play for,” Graham Zusi said. “Definitely a better start, looking for that. Defending our home, we’ve been good about doing that all season.”
Salt Lake currently sits two points behind the final playoff spot currently held by the Los Angeles Galaxy. They also sit tied with LAFC who play against third-place Colorado.
Math and tiebreakers will now enter into the mix for Decision Day, but first and foremost, Sporting Kansas City need a victory.
Then they can worry about how Seattle and Colorado perform in their respective matchups.
As is tradition on Decision Day, all matchups will be in-conference with east teams playing at 2:30 p.m. Central and west teams playing at 5 p.m. Central.
Sporting KC will end the 2021 regular season campaign at home at Children’s Mercy Park and hope the results fall in their favor and they come out top of the Western Conference for the third time in four seasons.