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A Historical Look at How Sporting KC Start (and End) Seasons

Sporting Kansas City don’t always start this bad, do they? Let’s look at their recent history of starts and finishes in MLS play.

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Credit: Thad Bell

Sporting Kansas City are not where they want to be. They aren’t where anyone, outside of fans and those associated with other teams, want them to be. They have tumbled down the table to 12th place in the Western Conference, just a single point ahead of the last place tie between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Portland Timbers.

It’s only mildly less gloomy when you include the bottom of the abysmal Eastern Conference and look at the Supporters Shield standings. Sporting KC sit 24th out of 29 teams, also ahead of Nashville SC, the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution.

2024 didn’t get off to an amazing start, but it felt more promising. Especially when viewed through the lens of 2023’s abysmal start. The team drew three straight before winning over the Earthquakes. Then, sure, they blew a lead against the LA Galaxy but they went on the road and won against Toronto FC. 2-1-3 out of the gate and nine points collected, even if four are against teams still below them in the standings.

In the six leagues since? Zero wins. Two more ties and four losses, including three straight losses. 12 games into the 2024 season and only 11 points collected in the standings. 2023 was talked about as one of the worst starts in the history of Major League Soccer and the team had only two fewer points through 12 games.

It has us all questioning what is wrong. From Daniel Salloi’s and Peter Vermes’ post-game comments, to discussions on our podcasts, For the Glory KC and Shades of Blue this week.

But these are different seasons. In 2023 Alan Pulido was just returning to the lineup. Gadi Kinda had yet to come back. There were injuries all over and once Peter Vermes had all the tools at his disposal, he was going to turn it around. And he did.

There are no tools being added to the toolbox anytime soon. The secondary transfer window doesn’t open until July 18th and the season will be more than two-thirds over by the time anyone arrives. The math is actually closer to three-fourths over. Just nine games will remain.

The team has to turn things around immediately.

But it hasn’t always been like this, has it? Sporting KC used to come out of the gates hot and fade in the summer is the story I remember hearing year after year. How far back do these problems go? Well, let’s take a look.

Through 12 Games

With a little over one-third of the season complete, Sporting KC find themselves in a bad position in the table again. However, let’s look back a little further at the first 12 games of the last few seasons. We’ll go back to 2018, since 2017 was the last trophy winning season with that US Open Cup title.

  • 2024: 2W-5L-5D (11 points)
  • 2023: 2-7-3 (9 points)
  • 2022: 2-7-3 (9 points)
  • 2021: 7-3-2 (23 points)
  • 2020*: 6-4-2 (20 points)
  • 2019^: 3-4-4 (13 points)
  • 2018: 7-2-3 (24 points)
*2020 was the COVID year. Two games were played, then “MLS is Back” was held. One of the “wins” I scored was a PK win in that tournament. I wanted to wipe 2020 from the numbers, but I didn’t want it to look like I wasn’t counting a good season.
^2019 was impacted by the CONCACAF Champions League but I’ve only tracked the league games.

Looking back at the past seven seasons and their beginnings, it’s stark how much the last three stand out. I remembered 2022 being bad and the 12th game was that 7-2 loss in Portland, but I didn’t recall the record being identical to 2023.

2019 is another poor start, but it’s better than each of the three most recent seasons.

Last Six Seasons

But the first 12 games aren’t the whole season. It matters how the season turns out. Did the team right the ship? Did they win anything significant? So, let’s look at how those past six seasons ended.

2023

Arguably they were an uncalled handball and red card away from the Western Conference finals. Then, who knows? It should be noted that an 8th place finish would have missed the playoffs in every prior season, but the league had just expanded the playoffs ahead of the 2023 season and the same format applies this year.

2022

  • Record: 11-16-7 (40 points – 12th)
  • Playoffs: Missed

Despite missing the playoffs, they made the US Open Cup Semifinal but lost to USL Championship side Sacramento Republic.

2021

  • Record: 17-10-7 (58 points – 3rd)
  • Playoffs: Lost in the Conference Semifinal

PRO admitted another egregious error in the season finale against Real Salt Lake on an uncalled red card and penalty kick that dropped the team from 1st to 3rd in the standings. They’d go on to be eliminated by RSL who were only in the playoffs because of that error (and the subsequent goal Sporting KC gave up to them).

2020

  • Record: 12-6-3 (39 points – 1st)
  • Playoffs: Lost in the Conference Semifinal

2019

  • Record: 10-16-8 (38 points – 11th)
  • Playoffs: Missed

2018

  • Record: 18-8-8 (62 points – 1st)
  • Playoffs: Lost in the Conference Final

Going through this exercise brought back some tough, but also very fond, memories. That 2018 team was so good. I remember thinking if the home and away playoff rules, as well as away goals, didn’t exist it all may have been different.

It was the first year Johnny Russell was in KC. It felt like the beginning of something. Instead, Russell is still chasing the first trophy of his career.

It feels like Sporting KC are further away from a trophy than ever. The US Open Cup this season is one that should be the easiest to get with so few first division foes to overcome. Then again, that 2022 team dominated their USL Championship level opposition but failed to get past them for a chance to play for a trophy against Orlando City.

Back in February of 2023, on the heels of the failed US Open Cup run and missing the playoffs, Sporting KC extended the contract of Chief Soccer Officer, Peter Vermes, for five more seasons. That extension only kicked in for the 2024 season. It runs through 2028. The timing of the extension has been the subject of a lot of must prognostication since it was announced and all through last year’s horrific start.

Vermes turned it around for Sporting KC in 2023. Maybe he can do it again. At this exact moment, it doesn’t really feel like it. But the hurdle to make the playoffs is low and maybe the team finds a way. Wherever this journey and season takes us, the KC Soccer Journal will keep telling you the stories.

In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of fun watching Sporting KC II this season. Benny Feilhaber has his team playing out of the 4-3-3, but he’s not playing soccer we are used to seeing. Do yourself a favor and go watch last weekend’s game. No matter what the score was, I always felt like SKC II were going to win. And it was really fun to watch them play.

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Mister Murse

I think 2019 was the turning point.
We had a deep concacaf run that was promising but then ruined the rest of the season. We partially recovered but our last conference final was in 2018. We haven’t truly contended for any titles since concacaf and the open cup loss to Sacramento.

WonderfulWizHeWas

What changed? Has the league’s growth and development just outpaced Vermes’ abilities as a soccer man with too many hats? Was Neil Patterson’s untimely death the beginning of the downturn as early as 2017? Would ownership have stuck by Vermes the last couple of years if Patterson were still alive?

Whatever it was, a change needs to be made, and firing Vermes is the cleanest and most obvious way forward. I’ve been on the Vermes-Out bus longer than most, and drew a lot of ire from diehard SKC fans for quite a while because of my outspoken opinions about Vermes. I see more and more people joining me. I don’t relish being in the front seat of the bus. I just want to see SKC and the fans get back to the passion and devotion the club was once known for across the country. We need a new driver.

Mister Murse

I think over reliance on aging players and a lack of consistent youth development is a good start.

A lack of change coupled with league growth.

Refusal to adapt to fit our strengths in order to shore up player weaknesses…

I dunno. I don’t have the hard stats so everything is off the eyeball test for me.

KCOutsider

2019 was when I first recall noticing how PV’s poor game/roster management affected the team. That’s when we destroyed Toluca at elevation and were facing an even greater upcoming challenge, but PV insisted on playing the same starting roster in LA to open the season a few days later, ran them into the ground, then lost badly in CCL. Every fan I know was screaming to just punt on the season’s opening game with a rotated squad and go for CCL glory, but nope, PV just had to tell them all to man up and play through it all.

Mister Murse

That’s right!! We trotted out the starting lineup while traveling from KC to LA to KC to Mx to another carribean location? I think we went over 1k miles in less than a month. It was insanely stupid as we looked GOOD when playing. It wasn’t even a home opener either.

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