With Sporting Kansas City on a bye last weekend, the rest of the Eastern Conference was an interesting mess. In case you haven't been paying attention, a quick recap.
The Kansas City Star
Table topping Montreal (fresh off a bye week of its own) drew with the surprisingly tricky Columbus Crew. Chicago, which had just thrashed the Red Bulls 3-1 the week before, went down to Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium where, apparently, no team will ever win. The Fire lost 2-1.
New England (who have scored just ONE goal this year) didn't score against Seattle, but Seattle (who have yet to win ONE game this year) didn't score either. Toronto and Philadelphia (the two teams who pushed Kansas City the hardest this year) drew 1-1.
But more pertinent to Kansas City was the result in our nation's capital, where the New York Red Bulls (finally) put together a complete game to thrash (cellar-dwelling) D.C. United 2-0.
What does all of that mean for Kansas City? Nothing really. It's April, SKC is in third place (averaging 1.83 points per game) and I didn't have a great introduction pre-written for this preview.
Tonight's game will be live on KSMO-TV with Callum Williams and Jake Yadrich on the call.
Who wants to start this preview?
1. Is Kansas City catching New York at the right time or the worst time?
New York is a schizophrenic team and it's hard to get a proper read on them.
Will the Red Bulls tonight be the world-beating, attack-minded Red Bulls that smacked D.C. United around last weekend (and, really, did everything but score in a commanding 0-0 draw a few weeks ago against United too) or the accident-prone, lethargic Red Bulls that got throttled 3-1 by Chicago?
If a well-rested SKC can catch the shaky, lethargic defensive version of the Red Bulls playing on tired legs after this weekend (and with another match looming on Saturday), Sporting could waltz into New York and leave with all the points.
If it's the dangerous, lethal attacking version spearheaded by Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Fabian Espindola and Dax McCarthy, Kansas City could be in for a really strong test and the scoreless streak could be in jeopardy.
For Kansas City, historically, they've haven't been great coming off a long rest. They probably also remember last year's not-so-great bi-coastal road trip where they drew with Seattle on a Wednesday before getting thrashed 4-0 in Philadelphia three days later.
2. How long can Sporting KC's shutout streak last?
Somewhat lost in the 429-minute shutout streak that Jimmy Nielsen and the defense carry into this game (sort of a dirty little secret) is that a couple of those shutouts have come against teams either...
A) lacking a main threat, a la D.C. United; B) lacking an above average striker, a la Chicago; or C) lacking any semblance of an attack this year, a la New England.
The only convincing victory during this streak -- against a team with a full-complement of above-average attackers with a semblance of a game plan -- was against Montreal. (And, boy, was that convincing.)
But New York pose different problems than the Impact. The Red Bulls have one of the world's best clinical strikers (Henry), a bulldog midfielder with a knack for scoring goals (at least, Cahill did that with Everton), a pest with a penchant for frustrating defenses (Espindola), an anchor midfielder with a great outside shot (McCarthy) and a defender who knows how to score off set pieces (Jamison Olave). They likely won't leave as much open space in the midfield for Benny Feilhaber to operate as the Impact did either.
The trick for KC's defense? Keep restricting chances. Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin like to set a high line and attack the opposing forwards when they receive the ball in the attacking half (usually 25-35 yards out). That plan, thus far, has pushed the play out wide and, more importantly, out of the penalty box. During the streak, Nielsen has faced just three shots.
Allen Chapman You might remember him from the first leg of the Kansas City-Houston series in last year's playoffs. (Maybe not very fondly.) He's got 14 MLS games under his belt and whistles 20.7 fouls and 3.1 yellow cards per game. The red card has only come out of his pocket one time.
Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic. Both are danger of a suspension after accumulating two more yellow cards.
New York OUT: Ryan Meara (hip surgery); QUESTIONABLE: Digao (heel), Connor Lade (heel), Peguy Luyindula (left hamstring)
Kansas City OUT: Teal Bunbury (left knee sprain), Jacob Peterson (right shoulder sprain), Josh Gardner (right quad strain)
Cool Stat, Bro
429 minutes. That's how long it's been since Kansas City allowed a goal this year. And that goal was from the penalty spot against Toronto.
What could you do with 429 minutes?
You could put a serious dent in getting caught up on "Breaking Bad" before the final season airs this summer. You could listen to the live version of Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda Da Vida" 22 1/2 times (this sounds like a challenge of some sort -- please don't try that). You could watch the first three "Star Wars" movies in their entirety and STILL have 45 minutes left over to complain about Jar-Jar Binks and George Lucas and worry about the future of the franchise under Disney.
Previously on Sporting Kansas City's chase for MLS glory...
Best Lineup Guess
It's nearly impossible to tell what Peter Vermes will do with a back-to-back cross-country road trip (Cool Stat, Bro -- Take 2: KC will travel 2,462 air miles between NY and LA). But, my guess, he goes with the winning formula of the last two matches.
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; MID: Oriol Rosell, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; FWD: C.J. Sapong, Claudio Bieler, Graham Zusi
SUBS: Eric Kronberg; Mechack Jerome, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum; Peterson Joseph; Bobby Convey, Soony Saad
Game Day Prep
Read this: Sporting KC ready for bi-coastal road trip.
Listen to this: Kick the Ball
Kansas City 2, New York 1 I think there will be goals in this game -- New York's offense is quite potent if clicking, but are quite suspect in defense -- with KC running out to a big lead (Bieler, Feilhaber goals) with the Red Bulls (Henry) yanking one back. It will be far more interesting than some back here in KC might like.
This match-up has been chippy recently -- last year, there 83 fouls whistled and 10 yellow cards shown in the three matches between the two. Henry especially. He mixed it up last year with Kei Kamara and was red-carded two years ago for an incident with Roger Espinoza.
MatchDay Hype Song
About a year ago Schwervon, an excellent band based out of New York, decided to relocate to Kansas City. The idea: It's centrally located for touring purposes. Well, New York's loss is our gain. The duo are incredible songwriters and energetic performers -- I highly advise looking up one of their shows. Lots of dancing. Lots of fun.
Today's song is the uber-catchy "Balloon."