Only US Open Cup can save Sporting KC from worst ever season

Johnny Russell bursting forward for Sporting KC
Johnny Russell bursting forward for Sporting KC / Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/GettyImages

You know the last time Sporting KC finished last in the Western Conference? A full 20 years ago in the 2002 season, back then the entire conference only had five teams in it and the team was called the Kansas City Wizards. Man, teams called the Wizards just don't get the luck, do they?

No team called Sporting Kansas City has ever performed as badly as the current roster. They've never finished a season with fewer than 1.1 points per game (currently 0.9). They've never finished last in the West (currently 14th out of 14, two points behind San Jose, who have two games in hand). They've never finished a season with a goal differential worse than -18 (currently -19, on pace for -29).

There's almost no metric by which this isn't rock bottom for KC, despite being one of the best teams in MLS the last two years. Almost.

The good news is that they're just two games away from equaling the all-time record for US Open Cup titles, joining one team who won their last title in 1926 and another who were dissolved in 1982. In short, they're two games away from doing what no modern American team has done.

Sporting Kansas City can win the US Open Cup this year

The even better news is that the competition – in the first match, at least – should be at least theoretically manageable. The semi-final draw has matched them up against Sacramento Republic FC, a club who were slated to be made an MLS expansion team until the pandemic delayed their addition to the league, and their investment pulled out.

That should give a squad desperately lacking confidence a boost to their morale going into the game next Wednesday, knowing that – by rights – they're the bigger team here. They're bookies' favourites without even being the home team, and even though Sacramento knocked out the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes in the previous two rounds.

Hell, they're not even tearing up their own league, sitting exactly in the middle of the USL Championship Western Conference. This is a team that Sporting KC can, and should, beat. If they do, then they'll be in their fifth US Open Cup final. Never, ever have Sporting KC (or the KC Wizards) lost a US Open Cup final.

There's some recent precedent for Sporting KC overperforming in cup competitions when their league form dips, too. The last three times the club finished 10th or worse in overall MLS standings (2015, 2017, 2019), they've been great in knockout play. 2015 and 2017 saw them win their last two US Open Cups, and 2019 – when they laboured to 11th in the Western Conference, and a club-worst 21st in MLS overall – saw them advance to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.

This season has been a struggle for Sporting KC. They've got two matches to save it.