After a rough cross-country travel schedule last week, things will settle down for Sporting Kansas City. They've got a nice three-game home stand that starts tonight against the Portland Timbers. (The next two: Chivas USA on May 5 and Seattle on May 8.)
The Kansas City Star
Three-game home stands aren't that typical in MLS (Kansas City had just one last year), so enjoy it while you can.
Since all three games are against the West, it's a chance (as we wrote last week) to earn some "bonus" points on the Eastern Conference. Even though it's still early, Kansas City are atop the East and snagging a few points against the West can only help keep them in that position.
Here's everything you'll need to know but didn't have time to Google.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, I hear, could get scarce and this could wind up being a record crowd. (The weather right now is forecast for the 60s.)
1. Is KC's high defensive line a problem?
The Portland Timbers home matches feature a bearded, be-flanneled man wielding a giant chainsaw taking small rings out of a giant tree every time the home team finds the back of the net.
You could say that's what the Los Angeles Galaxy (metaphorically) did to Sporting Kansas City's back line last weekend. Only with less beards and flannel. More Irish smugness.
Using an incisive and imperious counter-attack, the defending MLS Champs cut a Kansas City squad boasting a 500-plus minute shutout streak and a five-game unbeaten streak back down to normal size.
It was always going to be a tricky game for Kansas City. But the tired legs, the mistakes, the return to form of Landon Donovan, the way Robbie Keane owned Paulo Nagamura/Aurelien Collin? It was just too much.*
You do have to give Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes credit: They went for it. Vermes threw out the exact same starting XI three days (and a cross-country flight) after tackling New York 1-0.
While Kansas City did get exposed by Los Angeles' imperious counter attack, it's not time to start panicking and doubting three years worth of work.
There's nothing wrong with the high line played by Besler and Collin -- look no further than the 540-plus minute shutout streak this year and last year's MLS-best defensive record. However, it is and will always be dangerous defensive posture when playing against fast and precise teams who can quickly compound a mistake.
Speaking of fast teams...
2. Will this be the fastest game in MLS?
While Kansas City isn't quite the speedy, athletic monster it was last year (thanks to the loss of Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury), it's still plenty quick and still likes to play the game at speed many opponents find uncomfortable.
That probably won't phase the Timbers. Portland under Caleb Porter -- with an aggressive 4-3-3 system and some similar/familiar players -- plays a bit like Sporting Kansas City. They don't press nearly as high (or as much or as long), but they do like to apply pressure and get out and run.
This has the makings -- especially if goals start tumbling in early -- of a ridiculously open game.
Watch this: The best MLS-based sketch from Portlandia.
Hilario Grajeda He's an MLS vet with 81 games under his belt -- the first of which came back in 2004 when he took charge of a Kansas City Wizards-Dallas Burn match. He averages 24.4 fouls/game and 3.5 yellow cards/game. He's awarded 15 red cards.
Kansas City OUT: Teal Bunbury (left knee strain)
Portland OUT: Bright Dike (ACL surgery), David Horst (tibia plateau surgery), Brent Richards (ACL surgery)
Kansas City Mikey Lopez (U.S. U-20s)
Cool Stat, Bro
111 That's how many shots KC has taken this year, which is good for second best in the league. Under Vermes, the club has lead the league in shots the last 3 years and finished third in 2009. A lot of talk earlier in the year was that SKC would take less shots this year without Kei Kamara. That's not been the case. So far, Kansas City is average 13.9 shots per game -- only two shots/game shy of the 2012 tally.
Previously, on Sporting KC's chase for glory...
Former KC stalwarts Jack Jewsbury and Michael Harrington currently are the starting fullbacks (right and left respectively) for Portland. It will be Harrington's first game here not wearing a KC uniform.
Best Lineup Guess
A lot to consider this week. A) KC is back home, B) the team didn't have the best performance on Saturday, C) there were injury questions for a few players (notably Oriol Rosell) and D) Portland play a very fast brand of soccer. How will Vermes answer/counter/deal with those issues? I want to say there will be changes -- but, honestly, I think the coach will just ride the same eleven players from last week with a surprise addition to the bench.
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
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Mechack Jerome, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum; Peterson Joseph; Soony Saad, Jacob Peterson
Kansas City 2, Portland 1 This game will have a few goals. Both offenses are pretty exciting. One to be aware of is that the Timbers are getting it done on the road this year, drawing all three road matches (Seattle, Colorado, San Jose).
MatchDay Hype Song
Today's music recommendation: Drew Black and the Dirty Electric. They are celebrating the release of a new album today. It's good dark, glammy, dirty, sexy rock n' roll. Today's song choice is "Grave" -- which has nothing to do with anything related to today's game. It's just a good song.