The last road trip of the regular season finds Kansas City, again, in the city that never sleeps. (Or, well, Harrisonville, N.J. The city that maybe takes a light nap occasionally.)
The Kansas City Star
Just a month ago, Sporting KC went all Snake Plissken, swooping into New York on a stealth glider and leaving with
the president all three points. (It's too bad Graham Zusi cut off all his hair, he'd have been an excellent Snake Plissken for Halloween.)
Today's match is a lot more important. For today, not only are three points up for grabs, but earning all three of those points will put KC well not he path to finish atop the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row. There's a chance they'll actually clinch with a win tonight too.
I laid out all of the scenarios yesterday, so I won't re-hash them here. (Just read that story if you have questions.) Just know: KC needs to win and New England needs to put out the Fire.
Here are the basics you need to know about tonight's game in easy-to-digest bullet form.
• Kickoff is at 6 p.m. from Red Bull Stadium in Harrisonville, N.J. You can watch the broadcast on KSMO-TV (Callum Williams and Jake Yadrich will have the call).
• Sporting scored very easily against New York early in the last trip to New York. I don't expect New York to have that same problem again this time. How they handle KC's press will still be very important, but expect a much more patient approach from the experienced Red Bulls.
• Thierry Henry and Kei Kamara had a very heated exchange -- which led to Henry receiving a post-match suspension for a head butt. Expect there to be no love loss between any KC player and the Frenchman.
• Sporting Kansas City already set a record for most regulation-victories in a season (17). A draw would give KC its first 60-point season in MLS history.
• Kansas City will be without a key player tonight, Roger Espinoza. The midfielder sprained his ankle against Columbus two weeks ago and did not make the trip to New York. Teal Bunbury (ACL tear) and Cyprian Hedrick (fibula fracture) are the only other players on KC's injury report.
• Will that mean a return to the Starting XI for either Bobby Convey (out since, like, 2008 it seems -- actually July) or Jacob Peterson (he hasn't started a game in almost a month)?
• Even though they don't show up on the latest injury report, New York will be without both first-choice fullbacks Brandon Bracklage (right) and Wilman Conde (left). Expect midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli on the right and rookie Connor Lade on the left.
• Whatever side Lade winds up on, that should be the side that Kei Kamara works. The height and athletic mismatch is ASTOUNDING. (Lade is generously listed at 5'7"; Kamara is 6'3".) During the match in KC in August, Kamara created chances against Lade but struggled with the more physical Conde.
• Yo're not going to believe this, but the New York Red Bulls have announced a sell-out for tonight's game. Hopefully, they'll run a spell-check on their signs this time.
• New York is having an off-field issue or two following the departure of general manager Erik Soler last month. Head coach Hans Backe is swatting away rumors of his departure from the club. Rumors that he may have started, or was misquoted, or whatever. It's interesting.
• Will Backe be fully invested in this game? I can't answer that. Though, I suspect he learned his lesson back in September that packing the midfield with possession midfielders has no effect on KC's pressure. I would expect Henry to be paired with either Sebastien Le Toux or Kenny Cooper (both started on the bench) or, perhaps, all three will be deployed in a 4-3-3.
• The man in the middle tonight is Silviu Petrescu. It will be his 58th match in charge of an MLS match. (The man with the toughest job -- in between Peter Vermes and Backe -- however is Geoff Gamble.)
• Both of the expected starting central midfielders -- Paulo Nagamura and Julio Cesar -- are on a yellow-card warning.
• If Cesar completes 90 minutes tonight without a yellow card, his accumulation will be cleared for good behavior. (As best as I understand the disciplinary situation.)
• According to this, card accumulation won't carry over into the playoffs. So, if Nagamura goes tonight without a yellow but picks up one on Wednesday, his suspension won't carry over.
• Big number: Sporting KC are unbeaten in their last FIVE MLS games away from Livestrong Sporting Park. They are an MLS-best 8-4-4 on the road. (Only San Jose at 9-2-5 have more road wins; only Seattle at 4-9-3 have fewer away losses.)
Predicted Starting XI
Without Espinoza, Vermes will have a chance to shake up his lineup a little bit. Who comes in for the Honduran? And, while we're asking questions that we can't possibly answer at this juncture, how about: Does Aurelien Collin come back into the lineup after sitting three-straight games for Lawrence Olum? This is my best guess:
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Julio Cesar, Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi; FWD: Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Jacob Peterson
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Michael Harrington, Lawrence Olum; Oriol Rosell, Peterson Joseph; Bobby Convey, Dom Dwyer
Two things wouldn't surprise me: 1) Zusi staying up top with Peterson slotting back to midfield and 2) Convey getting the start over Peterson (with Peterson then replacing him around the 60th minute).
Kansas City 1, New York 1 I think this has a draw written all over it. Both teams need a result in this game, but I don't see either side dominating the other. I could see Kansas City backing off their pressure a little bit to allow-- oh, who am I kidding? Vermes will have KC pressing high and trying to make New York's midfielders (especially Taino and Marquez) as uncomfortable as possible. I think KC takes an early goal (Kamara would be a good bet), with one of New York's talented strikers (let's go with Le Toux, he's Le Due) pulling it back in the second.