One thing is for certain in regards to tonight's match between Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution: It won't be as easy for Kansas City the second time around.
The last meeting between the two Eastern Conference clubs was March 17th, Kansas City's home opener, in which Sporting was able to come away with three points in a 3-0 thrashing of New England.
Kansas City fans probably shouldn't be expecting a repeat performance for a number of reasons, most notably the fact that New England played a man down for virtually the entirety of that match. Revolution midfielder Stephen McCarthy was ejected just 14 minutes into the game after McCarthy blatantly held CJ Sapong to prevent the Sporting forward from a goal scoring opportunity.
Chances are, Kansas City will have no such luck when they square off against the Revs tonight.
Combine that with the fact that Kansas City may be missing a number of players due to various issues and Sporting find themselves in what I expect to be a dog fight with an improving New England side.
Roger Espinoza is currently with the Honduras national team for the Olympics. Peterson Joseph is serving a suspension after his straight red card in Kansas City's 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo this past Wednesday. A slew of Kansas City players, including Graham Zusi, and Chance Myers, are nursing injuries of their own. I would imagine Zusi will start, but Myers is a scratch for tonight's game, meaning that Peter Vermes will most likely insert Michael Harrington into the right back position.
Other than Harrington, the Sporting back line should remain the same, with Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic completing the Kansas City defense.
Midfield, on the other hand, is a little bit of a mess. We know Zusi will start, and I imagine Paulo Nagamura will as well. Who plays in the final midfield position is where things get interesting. Julio Cesar? Michael Thomas? Maybe Vermes will opt to start Bobby Convey (if he's healthy enough) in the midfield. At this point, your guess is as good as mine. Kansas City has played an ungodly amount of games as of late, and we're starting to see the by product of that: a team that is battling injury, and fighting to maintain fitness.
Up top, I'd expect to see Jacob Peterson, and Kei Kamara on the wings. I'm thinking Teal Bunbury will start at center forward, with CJ Sapong coming off the bench at some point in time to either relieve Teal or Peterson.
In regards to the Revs, they appear to be a team that is showing signs that they just might be coming together for first-year coach, Jay Heaps. True, they have dropped the their last two matches, but before that, we saw New England go on a five match unbeaten run in league play.
However, two factors bode well for Sporting in this particular match. First, New England has been extremely poor on the road this season, winning only one match away from home all year. Second, the Revs will be without recently signed designated player, Jerry Bengston, who will be joining Espinoza with the Honduras national team. Bengston made his mark on MLS rather quickly, scoring a goal in his first game with New England against the New York Red Bulls on July 8th.
Key Matchup: Saer Sene vs. Aurelien Collin
Saer Sene has been a very good acquisition for New England. Sene, who the Revs acquired from European power-house Bayern Munich this February, leads the team with eight goals, and he's the player I feel will give Kansas City's back line the most trouble, even though the Frenchman hasn't looked as sharp in recent weeks. It should be an interesting matchup when Sene squares off against his fellow countryman, the freelancing Aurelien Collin.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 2, New England Revolution 1
Yes, Kansas City is hurting, and will be stretched thin for tonight's match, but the fact that Sporting is returning home after an extended road trip bodes well, as I think they'll have just enough to pick up all three points. The return of Zusi in the midfield is paramount to the team's success (Did you catch the Houston game?). As Zusi goes, Sporting follows.