For several reasons, Friday night’s match against D.C. United could be a dangerous one for Sporting Kansas City.
By KATHLEEN GIER
The Kansas City Star
The two teams occupy opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings, with Sporting in second place — already assured of a third straight playoff berth — and D.C. United mired at the bottom.
“If we look past D.C., we are going to be in a world of hurt,” Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi said. “Any team, at any time, can beat another team in this league. We’re expecting nothing else from this Friday’s game.
“We have to be 100 percent focused on our approach and put a full performance together.”
Friday’s match, at 7 p.m. at Sporting Park, will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs, with Sporting KC, 15-10-7, holding a 1-0-1 record against D.C. United this season. D.C. United, 3-22-7, has yet to win away from home in 2013, with a minus-23 goal differential in road matches.
At the same time, the club from the nation’s capital has shown it can hang with top opponents on occasion, defeating Real Salt Lake 1-0 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final on Oct. 1.
In addition, two of D.C. United’s goalkeepers rank in the top 10 in goals-against average in matches against Sporting KC: Joe Willis is tied for fifth (1.00) and Bill Hambid is tied for 10th (1.17).
Add in the fact that Sporting KC is still looking to lock down home-field advantage in the postseason — not to mention a shot at a second Supporters Shield — and it’s safe to say there are numerous reasons for Sporting KC not to take D.C. United lightly in this, its final home game of the MLS regular season.
“I think what is going to be important for us is when we attack, to make sure that we have good balance,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We’ve actually been pretty darn good at that as of late. We’ve had really good discipline within our team and the way that our balance has been.”
Zusi, who returned to Kansas City Wednesday night after playing with the U.S. men’s national team in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match at Panama, will play but not start on Friday.
“The guy just came off a long trip and 90 minutes (of playing time),” Vermes said. “As much as I’d love for him to start, it wouldn’t be an intelligent decision. It would be a selfish one on my part, and I’m not going to make that (call).”
Entering Friday’s match, Sporting KC is one point behind the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers in the Supporters Shield standings.
“We’re looking to go into the playoffs on a strong note,” said Zusi, who scored in the Americans’ last two qualifying matches (including last week at Sporting Park against Jamaica) and leads Sporting with eight assists and five goals. “Typically, teams who bring a lot of momentum into the playoffs do well.
“I’d like to get a couple wins here, make a strong statement for the Supporters Shield, and then make that deep run into the playoffs, as well.”