The Full 90

MatchDay Preview: Big-time playoff implications at stake for both Sporting KC, New England

The Kansas City Star

In the words of Dennis Reynolds, tonight’s match is all about the implications. However, for Sporting Kansas City and New England those implications have everything to do with playoff positioning —not something horrible like you usually find on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.*

*There will be a few gifs sprinkled throughout from that show. So, enjoy if you’re a fan. But, if you’re not familiar, it’s on Netflix. Just go add it to your queue and thank me later. Back to soccer talk.

Sporting Kansas City is perched (however narrowly) in second place in the Eastern Conference — just three points behind D.C. United and three points ahead of the Revolution.

The implication? A win would put a six-point cushion between KC and New England and, if only temporarily, pull KC level with United. A tie would keep things pretty much where they are at — for a bit. In general: A positive result would also go a long way toward putting that losing streak thing in the rearview mirror.

But, a loss? Well, that would be bad.

A loss would not only pull New England into a tie for second, it would give United the chance to pull ahead by six points on Saturday and potentially throw the door wide open for New York and Columbus to reach for the #2 spot. It would dent KC’s comeback from mediocrity and could set in motion full-on playoff scenario chaos.

So, no pressure Sporting KC.

Let’s get a preview in before the game.

The Basics

Venue: Sporting Park

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Broadcast: NBC Sports Network (TV), 810 WHB (English radio) and La Gran D 1340 AM (Spanish radio)

About KC: 13-10-6 (45 points) overall and 5-3-6 at home. Sporting is 2-4-0 over the last six MLS matches.

About New England: 13-13-3 (42 points) overall and 4-9-1 on the road. Over the last six MLS matches, New England is 5-1-0.

So far this season, the Revs had Sporting’s number. In the two previous meetings (both on the road for KC), the Revolution has won both games with a combined scoreline of 5-0.

Tactical Match-up: Two of the best American midfielders in action

I love it when two technically and tactically astute creative midfielders go head-to-head. Tonight, we’ll see two of the best midfielders in the Eastern Conference and, maybe, Major League Soccer.

Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen — both former high-touted American prospects who fell on difficult times — have been revelations this year. Both will be the main creative focal points tonight.*

*I’ll join the esteemed Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle in calling for a U.S. midfield of Michael Bradley, Feilhaber and Nguyen at some point. Please Jurgen? Please?

Feilhaber has four goals and six assists but, more importantly, was almost solely responsible for keeping Kansas City’s midfield afloat after Uri Rosell left for Portugal.

While Feilhaber suffered through a dip in August — as did almost everyone for KC — he seems re-energized over the last three matches. With Paulo Nagamura back and KC’s midfield balanced again, Feilhaber suddenly has the room to do something like this against Real Esteli:

And also the freedom to make a run like this:

(I’m a little mystified how no Chivas player seems to realize that Benny is running pretty much a straight line without any one stopping him through the entire Chivas half of the field.)

Nguyen has filled up the stat sheet this year with 13 goals to go along with four assists. He’s also benefited from having a few solid tackling midfielders like Scott Caldwell and Jermaine Jones to help balance the load for New England. Having a solid platform to operate on is important for his style of playmaking.

It should be fresh in your memory that, not that long ago he was making a lot of KC defenders look silly during the Revs 3-0 romp.

Kansas City will have to cut out the mistakes and resist the urge to over-pursue.

Lineup Questions

Just when you thought Kansas City’s injury crisis was starting to get better…

With Lawrence Olum suspended for yellow-card accumulation, that means Erik Palmer-Brown is in line for another start. (Or, it could mean that Kevin Ellis returns — but I think EPB is more likely.)

The loss of Olum should also clear way for Jorge Claros to start as the holding midfielder.

Eric Kronberg — who returned mid-week against Real Esteli — will almost assuredly step back into the No. 1 goalkeeper spot.

Both Igor Juliao and Seth Sinovic are on yellow-card warnings for next week’s match against D.C. United.

Prediction

Kansas City has put the four-game losing streak in the rearview mirror, but the Revs are a far tougher opponent than anyone KC has faced recently. The loss of Collin to injury could prove to be a big loss for KC — especially without an experienced backup like Olum to slot in.

This is a potential playoff matchup for both teams and, like all KC-Revs matches, could get a little dicey. With Baldomero Toldeo involved, can Palmer-Brown avoid a needless yellow (or two)?

I think KC can get a positive result — but just. The Revs are a tough team to beat and could prove to be a constant thorn in Sporting’s side in this game and in a month’s time.

 
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