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Playoff Math: Can Sporting KC Actually Make the Playoffs?

Let’s do some math and also see what we’d like from the rest of the 2024 season for Sporting Kansas City with just 13 games to go.

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Credit: Thad Bell

The 2024 season, much like half of 2023 and most of 2022, have been disappointing for Sporting Kansas City. The mere mention of Sporting KC and playoffs in the headline of this article probably has conjured an image of Jim Mora screeching “PLAYOFFS?!?!”

But Major League Soccer is not the National Football League. A stunning 62 percent of MLS teams make the playoffs. While the NFL has increased their playoff teams allowed in, most leagues are more restrictive than MLS. That means, teams are in it way later in the season than maybe they should be. That’s a story for another day.

This past weekend, Sporting KC started crawling in the right direction with a 2-0 win at home over Austin FC. You have to crawl before you can walk, but it’s progress.

After the game, the assembled media got the chance to talk to Johnny Russell about the game, his marvelous assist and the rest of the season to come. One answer made me want to dig deeper on the ‘playoff math.’

“We spoke about, obviously time’s running out,” Russell said. “We’re at the same scenario we were last year after the Leagues Cup when we spoke… about how many we’re going to have to win. We’re under no illusions of how difficult we’ve made it for ourselves. We know of the last 14 we’re probably going to have to win nine or 10 of them.”

The “last 14” Russell referenced included the Austin game. Sporting KC have just 13 games remaining. Right now, they sit 13th in the Western Conference standings on 17 points through 21 games. That’s just 0.81 points per game (ppg). The common math teams use is ‘win at home, draw on the road,’ but clubs don’t even need 1.5 ppg to make the playoffs. Not when so many get in.

Can Sporting KC Mathematically Make the Playoffs?

The sample size of an 18-team playoff field is one year. It’s not a great way to look at data, but at least there are two conferences to pull from.

In 2023, the San Jose Earthquakes were the nine seed in the West with 44 points (level with eighth place SKC on points). In the Eastern Conference, Charlotte FC slipped in with 43 points (also level with eighth place Red Bull New York). 43 wasn’t good enough in the West though, sorry Portland.

We can go back further to see what it takes to finish 9th, but expansion messes with some of these numbers a bit.

  • 2022: 42 East, 43 West
  • 2021: 47 East, 45 West
  • 2019*: 41 East, 42 West
  • 2018: 36 East, 38 West
*No 2020 because of that weird, COVID-altered, season.

As you can see, the numbers are all over the place. I stopped at 2018 because we are down to just 25 teams at that point which is messing with the numbers.

Let’s set the mark at 44 points but know full well that it could be off a bit.

Sporting KC have a maximum of 39 more points they can earn for a total of 56. So yes, technically, they can make the playoffs. That’s if they win all 13 games. They’ve won four games all season in 21 tries.

To Russell’s point, how many do they need to do to get into the last playoff spot? That’s 27 more points from where they currently sit. Or nine more wins (if all the other results are losses). Winning nine of 13 is a huge ask. Add to that they are about to play five times in 14 days.

As basically everyone has been saying for a while, they aren’t going to make the playoffs. However, it is technically possible.

What do we Want from the Rest of 2024?

Everyone probably has their own list here. But winning the US Open Cup would be a nice consolation prize. It’d be the easiest path to a trophy and frankly the least prestigious considering only eight of the 26 eligible MLS teams were even in the competition. Winning is fun though.

On a smaller scale, I want to see lots of players get game time to see who should still be here for 2025 and beyond. There has been a lot of that in recent weeks, but there are also lots of injuries. No offense to someone like Andreu Fontas, but I don’t need to see him on the pitch. We know who he is as a player but he’s 34-years-old and he’ll be gone after this year, right? Evaluating who should be next to Dany Rosero should be the priority. All the center backs outside of Rosero are either on an option year or out of contract. Let’s see if any should stick around.

The same is true all around the roster. Much has been made of the 18 players out of contract or on option years that the team can easily move on from. The only 10 contracts guaranteed beyond this year are Khiry Shelton, John Pulskamp, Nemanja Radoja, Tim Leibold, Rosero, Daniel Salloi, Alan Pulido, Alenis Vargas, Jake Davis and Felipe Hernandez (though, he’s probably gone too).

Of the players who are staying, pair them with guys they might be playing with in future seasons. See if they can build chemistry or show some promise. I’m not saying someone like Russell, who is also out of contract and on the wrong side of 30, should never play. But let’s clear a path for more minutes for guys like Alenis Vargas, Stephen Afrifa and Marinos Tzionis.

While it probably won’t lead to a miracle run into the playoffs, I think most fans have moved to the acceptance phase of this season. Winning a little along the way while developing some players would be fun though. And it’d leave hope for future seasons.

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