About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC is just beginning their season, although not in the best manner. In their 2014 debut, Sporting KC fell 1-0 to Seattle on the road in the 94th minute. Their lineup in that game, however, did not feature several starters in anticipation of this game against Cruz Azul. Sporting KC should field a nearly full strength lineup, including Seth Sinovic, Chance Myers and Uri Rosell, the three who missed the Seattle game. The only one they'll be missing is Aurelien Collin, who is missing the match due to yellow card accumulation from the group stage. Sporting KC comes into this game as the no.7 seed after two lackluster home draws in the group stage. They won the group, but not in entirely impressive manner. However, that was last year and Sporting seems to be putting all of their efforts into the Champions League.
Cruz Azul's recent form has been the stuff of nightmares for Sporting KC. They currently sit on top of the Liga MX Clausura table with 25 points in 10 games and were recently undefeated until this past weekend. They have a very strong attack, scoring a league best 18 goals in the 10 games of the Clausura, while only allowing six goals, good for third in the league. They are recently coming off of a 3-0 loss to bottom feeder Monterrey Tigres in which most of their team that played in the loss also played in their last win. This is a scary team but not an unbeatable team.
Who to Watch For
Sporting Kansas City- Uri Rosell
After not playing against Seattle, Rosell should be well rested for this match. One of the attributes which makes Cruz Azul so dangerous is how quick and fluid they are on their attacks. Rosell will have to be a brick wall in the midfield to make sure that Cruz Azul does not get the chance to test Sporting KC's back line. If Rosell can be a nuisance to the Cruz Azul attack, it will make the job of the Sporting KC back line that much easier. Half of the back line is rested and ready to go, they just need Rosell to create opportunities for them to do their jobs.
Cruz Azul-Luis Amaranto Perea
Perea is one of the men who did not play in the Tigres loss but is arguably one of the best players on the team. This formidable center back is a huge part in why Cruz Azul has allowed only six goals this year. His presence in the box is an attribute that sets him apart from other defenders as his ability to slide into attackers and to stop shots in the box creates a real problem for opposing teams. Sporting Kansas City is going to need to score goals but they're not going to be able to score at all if they allow Perea any chance to stop them.
How they Will Win
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC needs to play their usual game and to push the attack forward. The more they can keep the pressure on the Cruz Azul back line, the more likely they'll be able to push a goal through. This involves keeping a strong, attacking midfield and a good set of wingers forward trying to push through the defense. The Cruz Azul defense is a tough nut to crack but Sporting KC has two great midfielders in Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber. If those two can get the ball into a good position, the strikers should be in good position to finish it, but it all relies on Sporting KC keeping the ball in the offensive half.
Remember that dangerous Cruz Azul attack? Now imagine it in a 3-on-2 or 4-on-2 scenario as the Sporting KC defense tries to backtrack. Sporting KC is going to lose that battle nearly every time. Cruz Azul needs to take advantage of Sporting KC's pressured attack to spring a counter and let their fluid offense do the rest. They may be able to control the midfield battle but their biggest chance of scoring is sitting back a bit and waiting for the opportunity to strike. They have the talent to make Sporting KC pay over and over again in this match, they just can't let in a goal while waiting.
Sporting KC: Kronberg, Sinovic, Besler, Opara, Myers, Rosell, Feilhaber, Zusi, Zizzo, Bieler, Sapong
Cruz Azul: Corona, Chavez, Madrid, Perea, Pinto, Rojas, Castro, Baez, Fabian, Formica, Pavone
Sporting Kansas City 1-0 Cruz Azul
I'm being incredibly optimistic here but I do think that Sporting KC can pull out a home victory here. It's going to be low 40s at kickoff and hopefully the experience of playing in chilly weather, plus the home crowd advantage can pull Sporting KC to a victory.