Sporting KC looking for improvement

Sporting Kansas City has reached the midpoint of its MLS season — 17 games played and 17 more to go.

At the moment, manager Peter Vermes’ squad, which owns the last two Eastern Conference regular-season titles, is tied for third in the conference standings.

With 26 points, Sporting KC (7-5-5) sits three points behind Montreal Impact, which has played two fewer games, and two points behind New York, which has played one additional match.

Western Conference front-runners Real Salt Lake lead the Supporters’ Shield standings with 33 points from 18 games, while both FC Dallas and the Portland Timbers FC own 30 points through 17 games.

In other words, Sporting KC remains right in the thick of what should be a tense, tight race for the MLS points championship as well as home-field advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

It’s a good spot to be in, but Sporting KC still knows it hasn’t played its best soccer.

“We’ve played some outstanding soccer and had some outstanding games, but unfortunately we’ve been on the other end too,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “We’ve talked about it and we’ve been practicing very hard to find who we are. We know who we want to be, but we have to get out there and deliver it on the field.”

Consistency remains the buzzword for Vermes.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Vermes said. “As much as we’ve kept ourselves competitive in the table, in the conference and the Supporters’ Shield chase as well, we lacked some consistency.

“It’s never one thing. There are contributing factors and the guys coming in and going out is one. We’re still trying to get some new guys that are here to adapt and adjust and acclimate to who we are. But what I do like is that we’ve kept ourselves in a good position.”

Sporting KC begins the second half of the season at 8 p.m. tonight against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting Park.

“We’ve got to recognize moments in the game — when it’s time to battle and when it’s time to play,” Nielsen said. “We added more possession to our style before the season, but we’re figuring out that it doesn’t always have to be beautiful. At the end of the day, it’s all about the results. The last few games after the little break, against Dallas and against Columbus, was a step in the right direction. I’m very optimistic about the rest of the season.”

The goals haven’t changed — qualify for the playoffs, win the Eastern Conference and secure home-field advantage, challenge for the Supporters’ Shield and then win the MLS Cup.

“Our division has never been so tight as it is right now,” Nielsen said. “It’s very exciting to watch from week to week how things are developing in our division. If we could win our division again, that would be fantastic, but at the end of the day we’ve got to stand with the MLS Cup. I would take fifth in the division if that means finishing up with the MLS Cup. That’s what we are playing for.”