Sporting Kansas City takes on the Los Angeles Galaxy (unbeaten in 8 games) in the nationally-televised game of the week for Major League Soccer.
Let’s thrown on the warm-ups and run through the preview to get ready for the match.
Kickoff is at 5 p.m. with ESPN2 handling the broadcast.
Tactical Question: Open or closed?
One of Peter Vermes’ biggest complaints — besides the occasional “horrendous” ref — is when opponents come to Sporting Park and bunker. The reason for this: Sporting KC wants to play an open game with plenty of space to operate (and transition into attack). When a team puts 9 or 10 (or even 11 if it’s a Frank Klopas-coached team) behind the ball and closes the game, there’s less room to play. Less transition into attack. Less fun.
Vermes blames this opposition strategy (in part) on KC’s struggles at home this year. He’s not exactly wrong, but it’s also part of his job to develop strategies to unlock a closed game.
Bruce Arena, LA’s astute and intelligent coach, isn’t likely to come into Sporting Park with a plan to play wide open soccer. The Galaxy won’t bunker — why would you do that with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan? — but they will likely sit back and look for chances to counter. It’s a smart, conservative strategy on the road.
Which means this game should fluctuate between open and closed, depending on who can control the ball. Can Kansas City use its advantage in wide areas — LA’s defensive strength is through the middle — to keep pressing the action?
Big Number: 32
Sporting KC’s points through 19 games in 2014. That’s a total achieved via overcoming a month that saw Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Oriol Rosell, Aurelien Collin and Chance Myers miss extended action. It’s also a point total achieved with just three wins in nine home games. Which is insane.
Last year through 19 games? KC had 30 points.
LA’s Dangerman: Robbie Keane
The Irish striker put in two goals during a mid-week 5-1 thrashing of the New England Revolution — he has nine goals for the season. But Keane isn’t just a dangerous poacher like KC’s Dom Dwyer and New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips. Keane is also a devastating set-up man, picking up the main helper on both Gyasi Zardes goals. (He has six assists this year.)
His composure, vision, touch and scoring prowess can freeze a defender just long enough to do something like this.
Los Angeles will be shorthanded in defense without defenders Omar Gonzalez (ankle injury), Todd Dunivant (abdominal strain) and Dan Gargan (red-card suspension).
Kansas City’s injury list is still longer than the list of Walking Dead cast members who have survived since Season 1. Besides the guys out for the year (Ike Opara, Chance Myers and Peterson Joseph), goalkeeper Eric Kronberg (broken fourth metacarpal) and defender Erik Palmer-Brown (hip strain) are both listed as out. Paulo Nagamura will be out too.
Thankfully for KC, they will have the services of Aurelien Collin. His extremely soft red card has been rescinded.
How Soon Will Claros Start?
Another potential lineup question for Peter Vermes: When will newcomer Jorge Claros get into the mix? The Honduran World Cup vet was brought in to strengthen KC’s midfield and his energy (he’s nicknamed “The Pitbull”) and technical ability will give Vermes a much more dynamic trio in the middle.
He won’t sit as deep as Uri Rosell did or Lawrence Olum does and, if paired with Paulo Nagamura and Benny Feilhaber, could create a very fluid and balanced midfield. But, will we see that right away? My best guess is that he makes a substitute appearance or two before jumping right in.
Speaking of Claros, you really need to take the time to read Sam Mellinger’s story about how Claros survived being shot in the head. It’s excellent.
Kansas City has found its way to victory in the closing minutes of a game twice in a row. And, while Los Angeles presents a strong challenge, Kansas City will have a very strong lineup on the field tonight. The addition of Claros and a rested Zusi could tip the field in KC’s favor.