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Playoff Math: What Does Sporting KC Need to Do?

Let’s look at the odds and the math and try to figure out what Sporting Kansas City needs to do in order to quality for the MLS Cup Playoffs.



Credit: Thad Bell

Things in Kansas City soccer haven’t gone very well in 2023. In fact, they’ve gone quite terribly. As the KC Soccer Journal detailed earlier in the week, the KC Current need an epic run, in order to make the NWSL playoffs. They made their first step on Friday.

Sporting Kansas City’s situation isn’t quite as dire. They sit in 11th place, five points below the 9th and final playoff spot (it’s really a play-in game against the 8th seed). With results on Sunday, Minnesota United (who looked darn good in the Leagues Cup) climbed to 9th, the Houston Dynamo jumped up and FC Dallas fell below the playoff line. Also, every single team ahead of KC except the Seattle Sounders have a game or more in hand.

Past is Prologue

The first thing to really figure out is how many points will it take to qualify for the playoffs. This is obviously a moving target and one that is weird to calculate historically because of ongoing MLS expansion. The Western Conference has 14 teams, both this year and last. Back any further than it’s a decreasing number almost every season. Despite that, the bare minimum target will probably be 9th to make that play-in game, though 7th (to avoid that extra game) would probably be a big win for a team like Sporting KC who are terrible on short rest, which the play-in game will require.

We’ll just use seasons with 34 games (so 2020 is out), though there is probably some more complicated math problem in here I’m not going to try and solve in terms of how accurate these numbers are. I’ll stop at 2015 because 2014 had a huge outlier and it was suddenly last place to be in 9th in the West. I’ll also focus on the Western Conference, since that’s where SKC are now (though again, it could be throwing a wrench in things, it’s inexact).

9th Place Point Totals:

  • 2022: 43 points (1oth was 43 too)
  • 2021: 45 points
  • 2020: skipped (COVID)
  • 2019: 42 points
  • 2018: 38 points
  • 2017: 36 points
  • 2016: 38 points
  • 2015: 41 points

7th Place Point Totals:

  • 2022: 47 points
  • 2021: 48 points
  • 2020: skipped (COVID)
  • 2019: 48 points
  • 2018: 48 points
  • 2017: 46 points
  • 2016: 44 points
  • 2015: 47 points

As you can see in the numbers, 7th place is far more consistent than 9th place. The haves and have nots get split up a little more, the further down you go. However, in 2023, as of this writing, 6th through 12th are only six points apart (games are happening right now which could alter that). That feels like it could mean lower point totals overall, but I’m going to throw it out because who knows how these last nine to 12 games will go.


  • 7th place: 46.8
  • 9th place: 40.4

What Needs to Happen?

Sporting KC have 26 points through 25 games. They need likely a minimum of 15 points to get into 9th place (we’re rounding up), but that’s only good for 41 points which wouldn’t be enough in the last three complete seasons. For that reason, the goal should probably be the high of the last seven complete seasons, 45 points. That’s a 20-point climb.

Records to get 20 points from nine games (W-L-D):

  • 7-2-0 (21 points)
  • 6-1-2 (20 points)

And of course, eight or nine wins would do the trick. To add a little more context, Sporting KC have only six wins through 25 (!!!) games so far. And the minimum number of wins to get them to this, admittedly potentially high, target is six wins. It’s very possible a lower point total will earn a play-in game, but it’s all pretty bleak, which makes sense when you play as bad as Kansas City have this year.

What about if we aim for the average?

Records to get 15 points from nine games (W-L-D):

  • 5-1-3 (18 points)
  • 5-2-2 (17 points)
  • 5-3-1 (16 points)
  • 5-4-0
  • 4-1-3

Climbing to 7th to avoid the play-in feels increasingly unlikely as the average of 47 points requires seven more wins, more than their season total. If they are that hot down the stretch, no one will want to play them though.

One of the only thing Sporting KC has going for it is a lot of teams are playing very congested schedules loaded with mid-week games. SKC have just one mid-week game against Nashville SC on September 20th. Also, five of the nine are at home.

What they have really working against them is strength of schedule. Every single team they play, except Inter Miami, are above the playoff line as of this writing. That Miami game is during an international break, so it’s plausible Messi won’t be there, but that’s still brutal. On the flip side, it means they are playing the teams they are chasing (outside of the aforementioned Nashville and Miami). So, all those games are “six pointers.”


It’s bleak, but not impossible for Sporting KC to make the playoffs. Something you probably knew before clicking on this article. Also, math is hard and a more complicated, weighted system would probably give us a better number. All-in-all, Sporting KC probably need to win at least six or seven of their last nine games.

When is too soon to start writing articles and recording podcasts about how we’d rebuild this roster?

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