Sporting Kansas City, coming off its most disappointing result of the season, heads to Chicago to take on its long-time rival, the Fire.
Kickoff is at 2 p.m from Toyota Park and will be broadcast nationally on UniMas and locally on KMCI-38 The Spot.
This is yet another match with one team perched atop the East (Sporting KC 5-3-2, 17 points) and one hovering near the bottom (Chicago 1-2-6, 9 points).
It’s unlikely the separation in their respective table positions will give Kansas City any comfort. After soundly beating Montreal last Saturday, a sloppy and dispirited squad lost 2-1 to the Philadelphia Union four days later — at the time the second-worst team in the conference.
To make matters worse, Sporting KC is extremely banged up and missing three players to international absences.
On the other hand, Chicago is coming off its first win in the league an unreal 5-4 win over the New York Red Bulls. The squad is relatively healthy, has no international callups and features exciting youngsters Benji Joya and Harrison Shipp (who had a hat trick against New York).
Who starts at center back?
To start the season, Sporting KC had five center backs on the roster: Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum and Erik Palmer-Brown. Four of them will be unavailable this weekend.
This is crazy.
Opara is out for the year. Besler is training for the World Cup. Olum has left to to join Kenya’s national team at a very strange time. Collin is listed as questionable but Sam McDowell reports he might be out at least two weeks (maybe) with a hamstring injury. Palmer-Brown has been battling a foot injury the last month.
Who’s even left?
Oriol Rosell played at center back for Barcelona’s B squad and is probably the first guy Peter Vermes would turn to. His ability to distribute and break up play would make him an ideal replacement for the Besler role in defense. However, because things have reached the mountaintop o’ insanity here, Rosell was limited in practice and is a game-time decision. Because of course.
Chance Myers — who played CB back in college but never in the pros — is also a candidate. He’s stronger than he looks and is a better defender than he gets credit for, but it’s not his optimal deployment.
It would be an adventure, but an adventure with precedent. Three years ago, also in a match in Chicago, Vermes was forced to use Roger Espinoza (then a slightly reckless left back) in the middle. That was the infamous Omar Bravo red-card game that KC lost 3-2.
The other “holy crap is this really happening?” options: Paulo Nagamura (defensively sound, trustable, very small), Seth Sinovic (not quite as strong as Myers, but reliable), Alex Martinez (no idea), C.J. Sapong (no) and Jacob Peterson (The Answer needs to be closer to the goal).
If you’re thinking of a potential “call up” from Oklahoma City, Kevin Ellis played Friday night and apparently left with an injury too. Michael Thomas and Kyle Miller, both former KC players, also played in that game. Bringing either one at this juncture would require a late-notice transfer to get in — which isn’t happening.
The good news is that it looks like teenager Palmer-Brown will be fully fit. But, in such a state of crisis, will Vermes turn to a 17-year-old without a professional start with a make-shift partner? Ideally, EPB would be paired with Collin or Besler for his first start. Vermes might not have that luxury.
Whatever options for the central pairing, it will be far from ideal.
Maybe it’s just the month of May
Since 2010 (the Vermes era) Sporting KC is 3-10-4 in the month of May. Those 10 losses have come by a combined score of 22-5. Woof.
While it would be easy to explain the result away as a calendar quirk, it’s not like things were going badly thus far in 2014 — a combined 5-0 score against Columbus and Montreal can attest to that. Things weren’t so bad in 2013 too when the squad finished 2-1-2.
There are four more matches this month to prove that it isn’t the month of May.
What next for Claudio Bieler?
Kansas City was sloppy all over the pitch against the Union. But Bieler’s lack of involvement was of particular concern. Mostly because he was completely isolated — a problem that has plagued him often in Kansas City’s 4-3-3 system.
You don’t even need to understand what those dots and lines mean above to know that’s not a great performance. (They represent the total distribution and shot numbers for Bieler. Just three touches in the box is bad for a central forward and two of those were failed attempts.)
As the season has progressed, however, Dwyer has made the conversation nearly irrelevant. In front of our (disbelieving perhaps) eyes, he has turned into one of the league’s most dangerous poachers with 7 goals this season (Bieler has just 1). He’s the fourth-leading scorer in the league and has played less minutes (693) than any player of the league’s top six scorers (through Saturday at noon).
With Dwyer capable of doing this…
… and this …
… it seems highly likely that Bieler’s position now is highly-paid game-changing sub. (This is all without getting into how Dwyer is much better at pressing from the forward position and is almost as important to KC’s defensive system as Rosell.)
Dwyer is the starter now. All hail Dwyer.
Mike Magee was the league’s MVP last year, but forwards Quincy Amarikwa (5 goals, 1 assist) and Shipp (3 goals, 4 assists) are driving the Fire’s attack thus far. With those three in the lineup — along with young midfielder Joya — the Fire has enough attacking options to create more than a few problems for KC’s makeshift defense.
Best Guess at KC’s Lineup
GK: Kronberg; DEF: Juliao, Myers, Rosell, Sinovic; MID: Nagamura, Martinez, Feilhaber; Zizzo, Dwyer, Dovale
BENCH: Gruenebaum; Palmer-Brown; Medranda; Peterson, Sapong, Saad, Bieler
Sporting KC 2, Chicago 1 With KC’s defensive issues and the Fire’s troubles keeping clean sheets (none this year, five games allowing at least two goals) this should be a fairly open affair. Given the timing and injury situation, a draw on the road is a point KC will surely take. Also, all the Fire do is draw.
Song of the Day
“Seems like I’ve been here before / seems so familiar / seems like I’m slipping / into a dream within a dream.”
The defensive drama. The opponent. The venue. The timing. Pretty apt lyrics for this game.