Here's what we know about Sporting KC after one match: Graham Zusi is lethal and on the verge of becoming the most exciting American attacker in MLS (yup, I said it). Claudio Bieler can be a clinical striker and a hard worker. Shots don't mean everything. Oriol Rosell has a remarkably high soccer IQ for a 20-year-old. Benny Feilhaber is a work in progress. So is KC's midfield. The defense needs to maintain its discipline and its shape a lot better in the post-Espinoza world. New players take time to get comfortable. Sluggish starts are going to happen. Balance takes time. Patience is a virtue.
The Kansas City Star
Here's what we know about Toronto after one match: Ryan Nelson (who retired as a player from QPR just last month) is a first-time head coach. The roster went through some drastic turnover, including the loss of two designated players. Several key players missed last week's season opener for undisclosed reasons -- including goalkeeper Stefan Frei, former KC midfielder Julio Cesar, playmaker Luis Silva and forwards Justin Braun and Danny Koevermans. The team looked difficult to break down in a 1-0 opening-day loss to Vancouver, but didn't offer a lot of attacking intent. Rebuilding your team every offseason takes its toll. Sluggish starts are common. Balance takes a lot of time. Patience is a necessity.
One team is reshaping its roster on the fly. The other seemingly stuck in constant re-building mode. One is a perennial contender in the East. The other has yet to qualify for the playoffs.*
*This is a shame. I hope TFC have finally stumbled on the right combination of bosses -- Kevin Payne and Ryan Nelson. A healthy Toronto franchise would be good for the league. Unfortunately, this is going to take time still.
The two teams kick off Saturday at the Rogers Centre at 12:30 p.m. The game will be on KCWE with Callum Williams and Jake Yadrich on the call.
Let's get on with the previewing.
1. Can Sporting KC avoid the sloppy start this week?
Good teams find a way to win when they don't play their best. That certainly wasn't Kansas City's best game last weekend. If it is, well, then that's potentially troubling. For the first 30 minutes, Philadelphia out-Sportinged Sporting, harassing KC's midfield, creating quality chances and testing the vaunted KC defense.
Kansas City can't afford to rely on Zusi to pull the team back into every game and they can't afford to let teams (especially ones that appear inferior on paper, such as Toronto FC) get on top early and bunker in.
2. Will Peter Vermes tinker with his Starting XI?
Philadelphia had a still developing backline (it was the first game for the partnership of Jeff Parke and Amboi Okugo) that was susceptible to possession-based attacks.
Toronto might pose a different problem with veteran MLS defender Danny Califf and Irish centerback Darren O'Dea. Those are both strong, physical players. Can Kansas City control possession in the final third with the same starting forwards from last week? Can Bieler/Bobby Convey/Zusi challenge both of them physically or aerially? Or would C.J. Sapong on the left wing give Kansas City a more athletic option to challenge TFC -- especially in the air?
I think this might be a case where Vermes reads the match-up and opts for a different dynamic up top.
Fotis Bazakos, who has been in charge of 10 MLS matches. Most recently, he was the fourth official for the wacky 3-3 draw between Portland and New York on Sunday.
Toronto: OUT -- Danny Koevermans (L ACL repair); Matt Stinson (L Hamstring strain); Justin Braun (Concussion); D. Henry (R Hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE -- Luis Silva (R Hamstring strain); Stefan Frei (Nasal fracture); Julio Cesar (L Calf strain); T. Morgan (R ankle sprain)
Kansas City: OUT -- Teal Bunbury (ACL surgery); Jacob Peterson (shoulder surgery)
Starting Lineup Guess
This is only a guess based on my gut instincts and knowledge of how Vermes typically operates. (I only missed last week's gameday roster by one player, for what it's worth.)
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Oriol Rosell, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; FWD: Graham Zusi, Claudio Bieler, C.J. Sapong
SUBS: Eric Kronberg; Mechack Jerome, Ike Opara, Josh Gardner; Peterson Joseph; Bobby Convey, Soony Saad
Kansas City 3, Toronto FC 0 It's a bold prediction, I know. But I have a feeling that the team we saw in the second half (quick passes, lots of possession, clinical finishing) shows up against a still-coming-together TFC squad.* Without Koevermans and Braun, and while Silva is struggling with fitness, I can't see where Toronto's goals are going to come from. Robert Earnshaw is a decent striker, but against Vancouver, he was all by himself (and very much not 90-minutes fit).
*Also, I'm going to force myself to stick with whatever prediction I throw out on Tuesday during the Kick The Ball podcast. Hey, give it a listen.
MatchDay Hype Song
A peek into my thought process:
Toronto Canada maple leaf maple syrup syrup pancakes Mac Lethal.
Yep. KC's own speed rapper became a viral sensation thanks to the delicious breakfast foods. The audio, which I'm just going to link to, is very NSFW.