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A Zusi-less Sporting KC play host to the Cahill-less New York Red Bulls

It's a critical Eastern Conference matchup as Sporting Kansas City welcomes the New York Red Bulls to Sporting Park with the national spotlight on the match.

USA TODAY Sports

After facing Real Salt Lake and Montreal in consecutive weeks, Sporting KC gets no reprieve as they take on one of the top Eastern Conference teams in the New York Red Bulls. Sporting KC will most likely be without Graham Zusi but the Red Bulls will be without Tim Cahill. The gameplans will have to adjust accordingly, but it should be a great match between these two top of the table clubs on national television.

About the Teams

Sporting Kansas City

After being unbeaten for six straight matches, Sporting KC lost a late heart-breaker to Montreal last Saturday. While this loss didn't knock Sporting off their Eastern Conference perch, it did put them only one point ahead of the Impact with the latter having two games more to play than Sporting. Sporting will begin a month where they have seven matches in all competitions and will most likely be without Graham Zusi for this match, if not more later on. A win and a Real Salt Lake loss or tie puts Sporting at the top of the Supporters Shield race, but a loss could spring Sporting down to third in the conference.

New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls are coming off a dramatic 4-3 win over Real Salt Lake while scoring in stoppage time. While earning the win, the Red Bulls put themselves firmly into the Supporters Shield race as they sit two points down to Real Salt Lake and one point to Sporting KC. A win over Sporting would put them in second, and a loss or tie from RSL puts them at the top of Supporters Shield table. The Red Bulls will be missing star midfielder Tim Cahill with a torn PCL for this match and 3-4 weeks after.

Players to Watch

Sporting Kansas City- Benny Feilhaber

Without Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber will have to become the biggest point of attack in the midfield. His job will be to replace Zusi's offensive production without leaving the rest of the midfield high and dry in regards to defense. He will have to work well with Peterson Joseph and will be held accountable if the attack is suffering. Feilhaber was signed to be a complement to Zusi when the latter is available, and a replacement for Zusi if he is on national team duty or injured. Let's hope Feilhaber can be what he is signed on to be.

New York Red Bulls- Lloyd Sam

Lloyd Sam will most likely be the man who comes into the midfield in replace of Tim Cahill. Sam has played in 14 matches this season but has only started in three. In those matches, he has scored once in 357 minutes played. It will be a tough start for the man who is mainly used as a sub, but he's certainly a veteran player and can handle the spot in place of Cahill. It will be up to him to try and replace Cahill's production, as Feilhaber will have to do on the opposite side of the fence.

How they will win

Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC will have to make New York miss Tim Cahill more than Sporting misses Graham Zusi. Feilhaber needs to have a good match and create plenty of chances for the forwards while controlling the midfield as Zusi normally does. Peterson Joseph will also have to step up and complement Feilhaber well. Finally, Uri Rosell will have to be Uri Rosell. If Sporting can get the ball to the forwards, they should be able to score, but they will have to win the game in the midfield. A good showing from the three mentioned above will give Sporting a great chance.

New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls need to keep possession and not let Sporting control the tempo. If New York lets Sporting play their high-pressure, in-your-face style of offense then they will lose. New York needs to slow the game down and let the midfield do its job. If they can control the tempo and give Henry and Espindola some decent chances up top, they will be in a prime position to win.

Predictions

Lineups

Sporting KC: Nielsen, Myers, Besler, Collin Sinovic, Rosell, Joseph, Feilhaber, Saad, Bieler, Kamara

New York Red Bulls: Robles, Barklage, Holgersson, Olave, Miller, McCarty, Steele, Alexander, Sam, Henry, Espindola.

Score

Sporting KC 1-0 New York Red Bulls

This feels like a game where both teams will match up pretty evenly in terms of possession and shots taken, but one team will pull it out in the end. I'm hoping it's Sporting.