Momentum can be elusive. Through much of April, Sporting Kansas City had it. Then, they lost it.
The Kansas City Star
Did they get it back on Sunday with an emphatic 4-0 win over Chivas USA? Sure seems like it. Anytime you can get your leading scorer back on a good vein of form (Claudio Bieler had two goals), your best player back to dominating the pitch (Graham Zusi was the man of the match and MLS Player of the Week) and the defense back on track (Jimmy Nielsen earned his 38th shutout -- and it was by far his easiest) is a good game.
Now, will it carry over into a tricky tricky mid-week fixture against the second-worst (but still quite dangerous) team in the league, the Seattle Sounders?*
*It's a bit astounding to look at the table and see Seattle at 1-3-3 (6 points) with only five goals on the year.
This is the first re-match of the U.S. Open Cup Final last August -- and that was the first time that the Sounders left the field at Sporting Park with a loss.
Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. and KSMO-TV has the broadcast.
1. Is Kansas City back on track now?
Yes, the 4-0 scoreline was impressive. Yes, it was a fun game. Yes, it was nice to see Kansas City make a team pay. Yes, the intro to this blog was about momentum and positive vibes and all that.
But here's a thing that deserves mentioning: Chivas were very naive in that game. Unlike Portland who came to play against KC with a plan (specifically, expose the high defensive line by playing into space vacated by the fullbacks), Chivas USA came to KC without a cohesive plan (other than maybe to foul and allow space) and tried to go toe-to-toe with KC. There aren't a lot of teams that try to go toe-to-toe like that at Sporting Park. Most teams in this league don't have enough speed/stamina/defenders/tactical acumen to handle that. Especially ones like Chivas that line up with just three defenders.
Seattle -- despite what the standings show you -- are a team capable of coming to town and playing smart against KC. Like Portland, they've got the speed (Eddie Johnson) to test KC's defenders and like Houston/Los Angeles, they've also got the steel (Osvaldo Alonso) to cover the attacks. Throw in a player like Mauro Rosales, and the Sounders have the pieces to wreak havoc and unlock Kansas City's defense.
Momentum is all well and good. But I'll be truly impressed when KC dispatches a team that comes to Sporting Park to play and can back it up. (Like Montreal way back in March.)
2. What's going to happen with C.J. Sapong?
I'm pretty sure that Kei Kamara is going to start tonight. He's in shape. He's dealt with far worse jet lag issues than a pedestrian England-KC flight. And, with this being the last game of the homestead, Sporting KC will want the extra added boost he'll give them.
Which means Sapong will likely head to the bench.
I know/believe that Sapong is a starting-caliber striker in this league. (He's proved it for two years.) But he's a fantastic option off the bench. Twice this year (Philadelphia and Chivas), he's been extremely dangerous in that role.
Imagine you are an MLS defender and you've been worn down by Kamara's athleticism/speed, Claudio Bieler's pesky and smart runs, and Graham Zusi's general offensive wizardry. It's the 75th minute and now you have to suck it up and take on Sapong? And he can come at you from either three spots? That's going to change a game or two -- I guarantee it.
(I have no idea what this means for Soony Saad -- who I imagine isn't going to get a lot of playing time until the Open Cup starts.)
Geoff Gamble is one of the less experienced MLS refs out there -- this will be just his 20th MLS game. Through those games, he's whistled 23.4 fouls per game and doled out 3.2 yellow cards. The one thing that stands out from the game notes? He's given out 9 penalties in 19 games.
KANSAS CITY OUT: Teal Bunbury (left knee sprain), Bobby Convey (right achilles strain); QUESTIONABLE: Matt Besler (right knee sprain), Benny Feilhaber (right thigh contusion), Paulo Nagamura (right ankle sprain)
SEATTLE OUT: Josh Ford (right patella fracture); QUESTIONABLE: Marc Burch (pubic strain), Shalrie Joseph (right hamstring strain), Obafemi Martins (right leg tendon injury), Steve Zakuani (abdominal strain)
Seattle will be without Lamar Neagle and DeAndre Yedlin after both drew red cards last weekend against Philadelphia.
For Kansas City, the disciplinary committee handed down a one-game ban to Paulo Nagamura for "violent conduct." It was from the challenge where he "demonstrated disregard for his opponent's safety by stepping on the hand of (Edgar) Mejia." (That's according to the MLS press release.)
Oriol Rosell is one yellow card away from a suspension.
Cool Stat, Bro
0 Number of times Kansas City has beaten Seattle at in KC in the MLS regular season.
Best Lineup Guess
This might be one of the handful times in my tenure covering Sporting Kansas City when I literally am not sure what to expect. There are enough injuries (especially to Besler and Feilhaber), the suspension to Nagamura and some question marks (Kamara stars? Zusi to the midfield? Rest for Sinovic/Collin?) to make this guess difficult. Not to mention, there's a tough game coming this weekend in Houston -- who have yet to lose at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Something tells me that A) We'll see a familiar face in the Starting XI and B) A makeshift midfield with a new face and a familiar one.
GK: Jimmy Nielsen-c; DEF: Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic; Oriol Rosell, Mikey Lopez, Graham Zusi; Kei Kamara, Claudio Bieler, Jacob Peterson
BENCH: Eric Kronberg; Mechack Jerome, Lawrence Olum; Benny Feilhaber, Michael Thomas, Josh Gardner; C.J. Sapong
NOTE: I have Lopez getting his first start and playing the Nagamura role (he's the most adequate destroyer option on the bench), but wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw Zusi-Feilhaber in the middle.
Kansas City 2, Seattle 1 I think Seattle's struggles will continue -- but not without making this a close game.
The matchup of Rosell vs. Alonso -- who won't actually mark each other, but who play the same role WAAAAY differently* -- is a very intriguing one for me. If Rosell can follow up his solid game against Chivas (which was preceded by two pedestrian efforts), it will help negate the loss of Nagamura. If Alonso can derail KC's attack, it will help Seattle control the tempo of the game.
*Rosell is a very tidy customer who uses space and timing to disrupt play while Alonso is a just an absolute badger trying to win the ball back. He's like Roger Espinoza with a shooting touch and way less hair.
MatchDay Hype Song
In my heart of hearts, I'm a metal guy. The most excited I've been about a non-Queens of the Stone Age concert this year was seeing the billboard for Iron Maiden coming to the Sprint Center in September. (I love Maiden, both ironically and un-ironically.)
I don't believe there's a fantastic metal scene in KC, but one of my favorite metal bands (well, metal math-rock) are from Lawrence: Coalesce.
They are inventive, difficult, challenging, different, surprising, chaotic and weirdly melodic. Not for everyone, of course. But they are ridiculously fun to see live. The song is "In My Wake, For My Own."