When the schedule came out earlier this year, many circled this week and wrote the word "yikes" next to it.
The Kansas City Star
A mid-week game against the well-funded and dangerous New York Red Bulls and then a flight across three time zones against the defending MLS champs Los Angeles Galaxy. Who, by the way, have by far and a way been the league's best team for about three years running now. Again, yikes.
Winning on the road isn't always easy in MLS. Last year, only San Jose and Kansas City (first and second in the Supporter's Shield race) finished with winning road records.
So, when you get extra variables thrown in (tired legs, injuries jet lag, travel issues, venue problems, etc., etc.) it can complicate an already complicated issue.
Notably last year, Kansas City struggled going from West to East -- drawing 1-1 with Seattle on a Wednesday before getting shellacked 4-0 in Philadelphia the next Saturday.
Hopefully, KC will have better luck going the other way.
Kickoff is at 9:30 p.m. tonight and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
Here's your preview.
1. Is this already a successful road trip?
Even though fans will want all of the points, getting the full three points on the road in New York makes this two-game road tilt already a success.
Because of the unbalanced MLS schedule, Kansas City has 25 matches against Eastern Conference foes but just nine against the West. It's a matter of points possible. Kansas City has 75 points on the table just against the East. The remaining points (27) come from the West. Doing well against the East is important, winning against the West is a bonus.
Also, beating New York 1-0 has decreased the maximum potential points available for the Red Bulls -- a potential rival for Eastern Conference supremacy (Kansas City: 95 maximum points possible; New York: 86.)
KC finished with 63 points last season and are currently holding 14 points with a 2 points-per-game pace (translation: if form holds, KC would wind up with 68 points).
All of KC's 14 points have come against the East thus far.
However, if SKC has loftier ambitions (like Supporter's Shield), winning these "bonus" points can be huge. The main difference between first-place Sporting Kansas City and second-place D.C. United in 2012 -- besides KC winning both head-to-head match-ups?
Kansas City had a much better record against the West going 6-1-2 (20 points) while United went 3-3-3 (12 points). The difference between them in points at the end of the season was 5.
2. Is Sporting Kansas City a physical, defensive team pretending to be a smooth offensive, machine?
No one will confuse this team with a Bob Gansler-era defensive juggernaut prone to grinding out results in slightly unattractive fashion. Yet.
Throwing out the Philadelphia game, Kansas City is averaging 0.83 goals per game (with only one multi-goal game in those six) and 4.17 shots on target per game. Not exactly offensive-powerhouse numbers.
As for possession, they've averaged a little bit shy of 57 percent through six games.
On the defensive end, everyone knows about the 519-minute shutout streak (still more than a game shy of the team's 681-minute streak in 2000 under Gansler*). In the last six games, the team has allowed two goals (0.33 per game) and a total of 9 shots on target (1.5 per game).
*This streak was part of a much more dominant period than most might realize. Kansas City allowed one goal in 810 minutes after opening the season with a nuts 4-3 win over Chicago. The Wizards packed an offensive punch too, averaging 1.9 goals per game in that same stretch. Of course, MLS was extremely watered down talent-wise at the time.
Like most Peter Vermes squads, Kansas City are also fouling at a very high rate. During the six-game stretch, KC is averaging 13.67 fouls per game -- just above its pace of 13.4 last year when KC finished third in the league with 456 fouls committed.
When I watch Kansas City play, I don't see a grinding, ugly defensive-focused squad with my eyes. But the statistics sure seem too.
Jair Marrufo The MLS vet (147 matches) averages 24.1 fouls per game and 3.1 yellow cards shown. As previously show, KC likes to foul a bit.
Kansas City Out: Teal Bunbury (left knee sprain), Jacob Peterson (right shoulder sprain)
Los Angeles Out: Brian Perk (sports hernia); Questionable: Jose Villarreal (left shoulder), Kenney Walker (foot fracture), Gyasi Zardes (foot fracture)
Kansas City Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic, Oriol Rosell face suspensions with two more yellow cards.
Los Angeles Leonardo is suspended through April 21.
Cool Stat, Bro
3 shots on target for New York on Wednesday, which is equal to the total shots on target allowed by Kansas City in the three previous games.
Previously on Sporting Kansas City's chase for MLS glory
Best Lineup Guess
To rotate or not to rotate? This is the question facing Vermes for tonight's game. He's got 8 guys who played 90 minutes on Wednesday then flew across three time zones for a game three days later. You'd think that would have some sort of effect. The flip side of that: KC's an extremely fit team who had an 11-day break before Wednesday's game. And Vermes values consistency above all else. And it's the defending MLS Champ tonight.
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
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Mechack Jerome, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum; Peterson Joseph; Bobby Convey, Soony Saad
Kansas City 0, Los Angeles 0 Perhaps this is a bit boring of a prediction. (I hate predicting a scoreless match. I really do.) However, getting a point against Los Angeles -- in Los Angeles -- would be a massive achievement. I think Kansas City's defense is good enough to lock down the Galaxy -- especially if Landon Donovan isn't quite clicking -- and I think Los Angeles' defense -- especially Omar Gonzalez -- is enough to push KC's offense out of dangerous positions.
MatchDay Hype Song
If you're familiar with the local music scene, there's no way you don't know about The Dead Girls. If you're not, you should give them a listen. Good guys, good music. In February, they put out a great album called Fade In/Fade Out. It's a great power pop album (will remind you a bit of bands like Dinosaur Jr. and sometimes the Foo Fighters) that I recommend highly.
Here's "Never Erased."