The Eastern Conference is currently packed like Sardines. Eight points separate conference leading Sporting Kansas City and their opponent this evening, the Chicago Fire. The Fire also have two games in hand against Sporting, which means a Fire victory could lead to them eventually leapfrogging Sporting in the standings. However a Sporting win would pull them equal with Real Salt Lake at the top of the Supporters Shield table as the season starts to wind down. It's a crucial match in the corporate rivalry as Sporting tries to burn down Bridgeview once again.
About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
After losing to the San Jose Earthquakes this past Sunday evening in an insipid effort, Sporting will be very glad to see their assist leader in Graham Zusi back in action. Zusi went through a full training session this week and should descend from his vacation on Mt. Olympus to join us mere mortals once more tonight. Kei Kamara has been ruled out for the match, which could see Zusi on the wing for the first time in several matches. Sporting have lost three out of their last four league matches, but still remain in a good position to end the regular season with some hardware.
Despite having to deal with unruly fans who force communications directors to write editorials, Chicago has managed to make a name for themselves ever since the signing of Mike Magee. Their problem has been consistency. They've been able to beat teams like Montreal and Philadelphia, then lose to DC United and New England. And that's just their past four matches. With some new signings in the transfer window, the Fire will look a bit different then when Sporting saw them twice earlier this season, and the Fire will be looking to gain some points going into the playoff race. They sit on the cusp of a spot with some games in hand, but three points tonight would do wonders for the Fire.
Players to Watch
Sporting Kansas City- Graham Zusi
Signs are pointing to Graham Zusi playing for the first time since the MLS All Star Game on July 31. He'll be interesting to watch for a couple of reasons, the first being how he comes back from his injury against a pretty good squad in the Fire. The second reason is that, since Kei Kamara will not play in this match, there's reason to believe that Zusi could play winger for the first time in awhile, with Benny Feilhaber manning the middle. If that's the case, the transition from Kamara's presence to a different one in Zusi will be something interesting to watch.
Chicago Fire- José Luis Anangono
The recently signed designated player for the Fire will play a crucial role in complimenting Mike Magee in the Fire's forward formation. He has started two games and hasn't provided a huge impact yet, but he certainly has the potential. His main goal is to provide good chances for Mike Magee while capitalizing on opportunities presented to him. If he becomes that main provider to Magee against Sporting KC, then the away side could be in a world of hurt this match.
How they will win
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting will need to contain the Fire's attack and not allow Magee and Anangono any space up top. Magee burned Sporting last match, the back four cannot allow that to happen again. Whether that's establishing physical domination early in the match or simply not playing with Fire in regards to offside traps, Sporting cannot allow any opportunities for the dangerous Fire forwards. Once they take care of that, Sporting should have the ability to pressure the Fire back line into allowing a goal resulting in a Sporting victory.
The Fire need to follow the examples of the San Jose Earthquakes and the New York Red Bulls. They need to not allow any consistent pressure for Sporting and they need to play their forwards higher up in order to capitalize on counters resulting from Sporting's high pressure offense. San Jose kept Sporting at a nearly equal possession level while limiting their passing accuracy. This comes from stopping opportunities before they happen and containing the ball in the midfield. If Chicago can contain Sporting's possession, there should be no reason why they can't take three points from this match.
Sporting Kansas City: Nielsen, Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Rosell, Joseph, Feilhaber, Saad, Bieler, Zusi
Chicago Fire: Johnson; Segares, Anibaba, Berry, Jumper; Duka, Larentowicz, Rios, Lindpere; Magee, Anangono
Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Chicago Fire
I'm feeling that this will be a frustrating match where both teams have chances late to win but neither can capitalize as they work their way to a draw.