It is finally here. U.S. Open Cup Final day.
The Kansas City Star
It's fairly hard to believe, but most Sporting Kansas City fans have never known a day like this. Put it this way: If everyone who attended the 2004 Open Cup Final at Arrowhead attends tonight's game, that means there are at least 12,000 fans who have never witnessed a live Open Cup Final in this city. That number is likely a little bit higher than that.
For those 8,000 or so who have experienced a Cup Final in this town, it's been far, far, far too long.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m. at Livestrong Sporting Park. The game is a near sell-out. If you can't make it out, you'll need GolTV to watch it live. Or a radio tuned to 810 WHB to get the local call.
How about we get this preview post rolling? Ya' with me? . Good
Tactical Analysis: Can KC get the open game it wants?
If the last month and a half have shown anything, it's that MLS teams have figured out how to combat and stifle Sporting Kansas City. Especially at home.
Over the last 11 MLS matches (coincidentally that dates back to the two-week international break to open the month of June), Kansas City are a mediocre 4-4-3 with an even more mediocre 11 goals scored against 11 allowed. Only 3 of those goals have come inside of Livestrong Sporting Park, and two of those goals came in one game (the win over Toronto way back on June 16*).
*That's also the last time that Kansas City won a non-Open Cup match at home.
The main reason for KC's struggles (there are several): Teams have adopted the Dynamo Tactic at Livestrong Sporting Park. The Dynamo Tactic is the game-plan that Houston employed with great success in the Eastern Conference Final last year.
The Dynamo Tactic involves four major components: Clog the middle of the field (usually with 9-10 players behind the ball); keep your fullbacks at home to help defend KC's wide attacks; press all three KC midfielders in possession (Julio Cesar is far less effective the more uncomfortable he is); and isolate the center forward to take away the attack's fulcrum.
With more and more teams are "packing it in" against KC and following the Dynamo's lead, KC's attack has stagnated. The once-powerful "goals from crosses" has all but disappeared from Sporting's arsenal: Of KC's 8 goals from crosses this season, only one has come since June 1.
This has caused a slower and more restricted game than Kansas City comfortable with. It forces KC to lose its proactive/reactive balance and turn into a proactive-only possession team.
It's like making a run-and-gun football team play a ground-and-pound game. Or a fast-break basketball team run the Princeton offense.*
*Kansas City share a little fault in these struggles however. The team stopped circulating the ball and playing the dangerous diagonal balls over the top. Those worked this Spring. Why go away from them?
The Sounders have probably noticed how effective the Dynamo Tactic has been in suffocating Sporting.
However, since this isn't a league game and Seattle is the most talented offensive team to visit Livestrong since May, it's not likely that the Sounders will sit back, play conservatively and hope to nick a road point. They'll be looking to win. Which might play directly into Kansas City's hands.
On the road, when teams are intent on attacking and earning all three points, Kansas City have been far more effective at establishing the transition game. If the the action is more free-flowing and the game balanced, Sporting's proactive approach is mixed with its reactive talents.
Thus creating the open game that Kansas City needs to succeed.
How will KC's youth deal with this stage?
Kansas City is a young team. Many of the key players have just one big game on their resume: The Eastern Conference Final in 2011.
Seattle, on the other hand, are seasoned vets at big games. That's what three-straight Open Cup titles and CONCACAF Champions League games will do for you.
Sporting will need to rely on the experience of guys like Paulo Nagamura, Julio Cesar and Jimmy Nielsen.
The injury situation
Kansas City will have several players struggling for fitness: Chance Myers (groin strain) and C.J. Sapong (hip flexor strain) are close to returning; Jacob Peterson (shoulder sprain) and Bobby Convey (hamstring strain) are doubtful; and now it turns out that Roger Espinoza's ability might be up in the air because of a clavicle injury he suffered in the Olympics.
The team will already be without Aurelien Collin, who is suspended due to yellow-card accumulation.
To top it off, Peterson Joseph (hamstring strain) is listed as "questionable" on the latest injury report; defender Lawrence Olum (groin strain) is listed as "probable."
Who is Seattle's Dangerman?
You get your choice here: The suddenly lethal former Kansas City Wizard Eddie Johnson (10 goals in MLS play this year), Sporting Kansas City killer Mauro Rosales (who scored two late goals last August to send KC to its first defeat at Livestrong Sporting Park), or notorious pest Fredy Montero (who causes anxiety for opposing fans whenever he touches the ball or gets touched however lightly by a tackle).
The thought of Eddie "Grown A$$ Man" Johnson tearing up the hole between Myers-Olum has me a little terrified.
What to read
If this post isn't enough to get you by, here are a few other things I'm reading that I highly suggest.
• Jimmy Nielsen is fed up with losing Cup finals, he wants to win one.
• Kansas City assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin looks back on the '04 Cup run.
• It's not injuries getting in the way of Seattle's lineup, but Sigi Schmid still faces a few selection headaches.
• Seattle is looking to make a little U.S. Open Cup history.
• And, finally, if you're looking for a little bit of fun to carry you through this morning, James Starritt at Sporting Times goes through his vast Cup Final memories. Lots of great videos and memories.
What to Watch
Constant loop. All day.
Peter Vermes will go with the strongest lineup he can. I think it'll look like this:
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Lawrence Olum, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza; FWD: Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong.
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Neven Markovic, Michael Harrington; Julio Cesar, Michael Thomas, Peterson Joseph; Soony Saad.
I won't be surprised if Vermes has to call an audible and opt for Saad over Sapong and/or Harrington over Myers depending on a late fitness check.
Personally, I'd like to see Cesar over Nagamura; KC is more lethal in possession with JC.
I know that many fans have been consumed with "The Terror" for the last two weeks. The 4-0 beat-down that Seattle put on the Galaxy this weekend and the poor run of form for Sporting seems to have only ratcheted up "The Terror".
However. I think that, with Seattle playing a more open game looking for the win, Kansas City can exploit Seattle's outside backs and left midfielder (whomever that might be). It will probably be a nail-biter, but I'm thinking Sporting Kansas City 2, Seattle Sounders 1. Goals by Zusi, Kamara for KC and Johnson for Seattle.
MatchDay Hype Song
What I'm looking for in a Hype Song: Something that I like, something that gets me pumped up. Maybe it's anthemic, maybe it's catchy; maybe it's a bit off-the-beaten path. Basically, I want something I can put in and listen to fifteen times and not get sick of it. Which I've just about done this morning.
Today's Hype Song fits in terms of its ambition, scope and awesomeness. I want to run through a brick wall when I hear this song kick in off the count-off.
It's Irish instrumental band And So I Watch You From Afar. The song is "BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION." (That song title kinda fits too.)
There was only one other choice to play today. It's the best party song ever written and one of the best songs in music history. And, hopefully, tonight's a big party for Kansas City.
Here we go