After taking a 4-1 beating from the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 14, many people -- fans and experts alike -- had written off Sporting Kansas City as an Eastern Conference bottom dweller. Their opinions were well founded, at least at the time.
Sporting KC were in the middle of a brutal stretch of games; 10 matches on the road to start the season, in which the club was only able to collect six points. Hopes were fading fast for Sporting KC. In fact, the only hope that remained at that point seemed to be the opening of Sporting KC's new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park.
The team, after having spent years playing in make-shift soccer venues (Arrowhead Stadium and Community America Ball Park), would finally see the completion of their permanent home in the beginning of June. Fans and players were no doubt excited about having one of the nicest soccer-specific stadiums in North America to call home, but still, no one could have anticipated what was to follow.
Starting with a 0-0 draw with the Chicago Fire to open the new stadium, Sporting KC would go on an amazing run of 14 unbeaten matches. They would not lose a match for more than two months. It was a streak that would catapult them from dead last in the East, and into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Even crazier than that? Sporting KC continued to have success as the regular-season progressed, and although there were a few stumbling blocks along the way (most notably losses to FC Dallas and Seattle in which Sporting KC conceded the lead late in both matches), the club was able to continue their hot streak. When Sporting KC took three points in a 1-0 win over DC United in their last regular-season match of the year, the team had officially completed their "from worst to first" story.
Much of the success the team has seen over the second half of the season can be attributed to Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes, whose job was being called for by many during the 10-match road trip to start the season.
Vermes has been able to bring in a number of key players in 2011 (Designated Player Omar Bravo, rookie CJ Sapong and defender Aurelien Collin most notable among them) that have all played a huge part in the team's turnaround.
Credit must also be given to Vermes for holding steadfast in his belief in what the team could potentially be and what kind of system his players were best suited to play, even when they were struggling so mightily in the beginning of the season, and it looked like 2011 would be a somewhat of a "lost" season for the club.
Although now widely considered as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Sporting Kansas City know they have their work cut out for them if they want to get back to the MLS Cup Final for the first time since 2004.
Justin Mayhugh is the managing editor for Sporting Kansas City blog The Daily Wiz. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinMayhugh.