On the heels of a dominating 3-0 shutout against Eastern Conference foe New England Revolution, Sporting Kansas City heads out west with one thing on their agenda: three points. The task will not be easy though, seeing as 2012 MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski and the rest of the Earthquakes squad are riding an impressive 11-game home win streak. Worse yet, Sporting KC will be without their biggest aerial threat, Kei Kamara, due to last week's injury during the latter part of the match. However, with midfielder Graham Zusi set to be a viable option once again, Vermes and company feel confident that they can continue their march through the busy August month.
About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
After a dismal performance against New York Red Bulls two weeks ago at Sporting Park, Sporting KC (11-7-6) used a vicious aerial attack, highlighted by a Kei Kamara brace and Benny Feilhaber world-class free kick, to take down the New England Revolution. Sitting atop the Eastern Conference with the aforementioned Red Bulls, Sporting KC is just a mere two points behind Real Salt Lake in the tight Supporters' Shield race. The injury bug continues to be a concern for Vermes' squad, though; Kei Kamara will not be in San Jose for the match, and a number of other players are nursing nagging injuries that have kept them out of prior contests. However, with the return of MLS All-Star Graham Zusi, Sporting's midfield should receive an attacking boost that will inevitabley allow Oriol Rosell to play more defensive - keeping in mind of opponents' counterattacks that have proved to be this squad's achilles heel.
Despite sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference, San Jose (8-10-6) are only four points out of playoff contention. The Earthquakes are coming off a disappointing week where they dropped two out of three matches, including their opener of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. The story for the 'Quakes this year has been their inability to score. Through 24 matches, Mark Watson's squad has only netted 25 goals - an MLS low. However, since 2012, San Jose has put away 61 goals at Buck Shaw Stadium - an MLS best. With the playoffs in mind, expect to see San Jose's "all over the pitch" service attitude to continue into Sunday's match against Sporting KC.
Players to Watch
Sporting Kansas City - Benny Feilhaber
Coming off arguably his most impressive match of the year, Benny Feilhaber faces his critics yet again on the topic of consistency. Feilhaber's consistency will be vital for Sunday's match-up against the Earthquakes with Kei Kamara back in Kansas City. The loss of Kamara's ability to win balls in the air will put the weight on Feilhaber's shoulders to set up Sporting KC's attackers and maintain possession in the midfield. If Sporting Kansas City wishes to put together a performance like last week in a hostile environment, expect Benny Feilhaber to be at the forefront of their success.
San Jose Earthquakes - Steven Lenhart
Save the fortune teller money, and let me look into the future for you: all eyes will be on the San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski Sunday night - especially that of the Kansas City backline. With the focus on Wondolowski and his recent form, Steven Lenhart's chances should open up considerably. The 26 year-old forward has only burried 2 goals in 13 games played, but if there's one way to catch Sporting KC off-guard - and to get Lenhart back on track - it's with the counterattack and a decoy. Come Sunday evening, if the Earthquakes prove to be too much for Sporting KC, don't be surprised to see Steven Lenhart in the post-game write-up as one of the reasons why.
How they will win
Sporting Kansas City
While San Jose is a much different team than New England, Sporting's gameplan should not differ from last week's. You can expect Vermes' squad to come out fast-paced - pushing forward and maximizing their services in the box. This Vermes ideology will prove successful if Sporting strings together a few dozen worthy possessions that limit counterattack chances. And above all else though, Sporting KC will need to finish their chances when presented in front of them.
San Jose Earthquakes
As we previously touched on, San Jose has struggled to score this year - both home and away. Facing the likes of Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Jimmy Nielsen will not help this sore spot for the Earthquakes, especially with the focus of stopping Wondolowski. So, if the 'Quakes wish to steal one from Kansas City, they'll need to press when favorable and eye chances to catch Sporting KC's fullbacks out of position.
Sporting Kansas City: Nielsen, Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Rosell, Joseph, Feilhaber, Dwyer, Bieler, Saad
San Jose Earthquakes: Busch, Beitashour, Bernardez, Goodson, Stewart, Cato, Baca, Cronin, Salinas, Wondolowski, Lenhart
Sporting Kansas City 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes