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Match Preview: Sporting KC looks to hold off Cruz Azul in Second Leg

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Sporting KC will look to keep their 1-0 advantage as they head into Mexico City to face Cruz Azul with a Champions League semifinal berth on the line.

Michael Fabian looks on in fear as he stares up at certain death in the form of a flying Kevin Ellis.
Michael Fabian looks on in fear as he stares up at certain death in the form of a flying Kevin Ellis.
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

About the Teams

Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City comes into this match with a shaky advantage, holding a 1-0 aggregate lead over Cruz Azul. This scoreline did not come easy as Sporting KC was pressed in the second half of the first game. This time around, they will be without starting left back Seth Sinovic due to yellow card accumulation, however they will have Aurelien Collin back from his first leg suspension. They should have backups playing both fullback positions due to Sinovic being out on card accumulation and Chance Meyers still being injured. They should, however, have some semblance of a rested front line and midfield. Graham Zusi sat Saturday against FC Dallas, and Claudio Bieler only played 15 minutes in the draw.

Cruz Azul

Despite being down in the series, Cruz Azul might still be the favorites in this matchup. They are undefeated at home, winning all five matches they have had at home during the Clasura. They have also not been shutout at home, extending that streak this past weekend with a 2-1 win over fellow Champions League participant Tijuana. However they have been playing a starter-heavy rotation, with eight starters playing three matches in the past eight days. They might have a weary starting lineup but that did not show at all in their match with Tijuana as they held 72% possession and thoroughly dominated the match, keeping their three point lead in the 2014 Clasura. They looked dangerous and should bring that same intensity against Sporting KC.

Who to Watch For

Sporting Kansas City- Graham Zusi

Graham Zusi did not dress for Saturday's match against FC Dallas, meaning he had multiple days of rest in order to prepare for this match. His job will be to try and pin the Cruz Azul attack back and to keep them modest on defense. Cruz Azul was able to formulate a strong attack at Sporting Park and that will be amplified at Estadio Azul. That is, unless a rested and attacking Zusi is able to create chances for the Sporting forwards and for them to cause the Cruz Azul defense as much grief as they are causing Sporting KC's. The performance of Graham Zusi and his ability to control the midfield will be integral in how this match turns out.

Cruz Azul- Marco Fabian

Marco Fabian is one of the eight Cruz Azul men who has played the three matches in eight days but his recent form is certainly something for Sporting KC fans to worry about. He scored two very nice goals against Tijuana this past weekend and has now scored six goals in his ten appearances for Cruz Azul. With Cruz Azul needing multiple goals in this match to advance to the semifinals, they're going to look to Fabian to provide some of that scoring production. He'll have to break the tandem of Collin and Besler, but he's certainly the biggest threat on Cruz Azul to do so.

How they Will Win

Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City will win this match by scoring early in the match and forcing Cruz Azul to play desperate soccer. If Sporting KC can come into the match with guns blazing and are able to get on the board earlier, they change a shaky 1-0 lead to a 2-0 lead with an away goal advantage, meaning Cruz Azul would have to score three goals in order to win the series. The way Sporting KC will win this match is by throwing Cruz Azul off their game plan and forcing them to take desperate shot after desperate shot. This will allow Sporting KC to relax a bit and play their own brand of soccer, pushing Cruz Azul back when they desperately need to push forward.

Cruz Azul

The best way for Cruz Azul to beat Sporting KC is to tie the series up sometime in the first half. A first half goal would give the home side an entire half, plus 30 extra minutes if needed to score a game-winner. Sporting Kansas City will be missing both of their starting fullbacks so pushing forward on the wings would be advantageous to Cruz Azul. If Cruz Azul can grab an early goal by pushing the wings, they will be able to box Sporting KC into a corner and force a goal through, similar to how they almost did in the first leg.

Predictions

Lineups

Sporting Kansas City: Kronberg, Ellis, Besler, Collin, Jerome, Rosell, Nagamura, Feilhaber, Zusi, Bieler, Zizzo

Cruz Azul: Corona, Dominguez, Castro, Fabian, Pavone, Gimenez, Rojas, Amaranto, Flores, Chavez, Formica

Scoreline

Sporting KC 1-2 Cruz Azul

I think Cruz Azul gets the better of Sporting KC in this match, but the away goal allows Sporting KC to win the series and advance to the semifinals.