The MLS All-Star Game isn’t exactly the half-way point of the season — most teams have played more than 17 games — but it does mean Sporting Kansas City and the rest of the league have fully rounded the corner toward the playoffs.
Sporting Kansas City’s last 12 matches include 10 against Eastern Conference opponents and five against rival playoff contenders New York, Toronto and D.C. United. (Lots of six-pointers.)
Time to start earning points, fine-tuning the line-up and preparing for the mad dash to the finish line.
It’s also time to start this Vancouver preview.
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As part of the league’s efforts to fill your weekend with as much soccer as possible, this match is on Sunday night at 7 p.m. from BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. You’ll find the broadcast on KMCI 38 the Spot.
Sporting KC is unbeaten in its last 8 matches (including five victories on the road) and firmly in the mix for the Supporters’ Shield. The SKC All-Star contingent of Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, Jon Kempin and Erik Palmer-Brown will join the team after spending the week in Portland.
Vancouver, on the other hand, is currently one point out of the playoff picture and has won just twice its last 10 matches — a stretch that includes six draws.
Tactical Question: Can KC handle Vancouver’s speed?
Kansas City’s high-pressure system has always been vulnerable to speed. (Which, frankly, is a statement you can literally make about every single system in the soccer world.) With its high defensive line and aggressive midfielders looking to break up attacking moves, Kansas City can often leave open space for an opponent to attack into.
Teams that quickly can move the ball — or its players — vertically into that space can cause Kansas City lots of problems. Think Portland and New York last year, and Toronto (and Philadelphia) this year.
Both goals show Kansas City getting beat for pace by indirect counter-attacks. Dominic Odurro tore through KC’s flanks recently with a much-more direct counter attack as well.
Now, normally, Kansas City is excellent at recognizing that danger and closing it down. This year, it’s been a bit more of a concern as teams (especially at Sporting Park) are almost relying on the fast, counter-attack as the only course of attack. (This topic came up in our mailbag earlier this week.)
Issues with consistency, cohesion and defensive injuries have exacerbated this problem. Why is this important this week?
Because Vancouver has crazy speed with Darren Mattocks up top (and Kekutah Manneh potentially off the bench) and the midfielders (Matias Laba, Pedro Morales and Gershon Koffie) to win the ball and get the attack moving quickly.
Kansas City needs to be organized when it steps up on the offside trap and recognize quickly when a gap starts to open. Mattocks and Company need just a sliver of space.
This happened in a real game.
Big Number: 7
Kansas City, like last year, is proving to be a vicious road team with seven road wins this year, including a current streak of five in a row. Over those last five games, Sporting KC’s goal differential is +6.
The injury situation for Sporting is the same as its been recently with Eric Kronberg and Paulo Nagamura listed as out. Seth Sinovic, who missed the Philadelphia game last week, wasn’t listed on the injury report. (Not sure if he traveled with the team or not.)
Besler returns from his one game suspension to shore up the spot next to Collin. Both started the MLS All-Star Game, but played just 45 minutes and appeared completely and totally fit.
Dangerman: Matias Laba
The 22-year-old midfielder (a designated player jettisoned by Toronto after the Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto signings this off-season) has been one of the best acquisitions in MLS. He’s a strong tackling midfielder (only Portland’s Diego Chara averages more tackles per game than Laba’s 5.1) with excellent interception skills (only Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman is better). Basically, he is Vancouver’s Uri Rosell.
On Sunday, Kansas City will have to figure out a way to move the ball around Laba and keep him from tackling Dom Dwyer out of the game.
Benny Feilhaber — along with Laba two of the best midfielders in MLS this year — will need to help drag Vancouver’s midfield out of shape to help open up running and passing lanes.
This is a tricky match for Kansas City. Vancouver is a very dangerous team with enough speed and quality to push KC’s defense. However, Kansas City has shown its resolve time and time again. I think this could be a high-scoring affair with a draw fairly likely.