About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
The past couple of weeks have been large in rivalries for Sporting KC as they've faced Houston, Real Salt Lake, and Houston again. After picking up a win in the first match, the tired squad lost at Real Salt Lake, then put up a lackluster performance a week later against the Dynamo. Suddenly the games in hand advantage isn't as sure of a thing anymore and Sporting KC needs to start picking up wins as they catch up to the rest of the league in matches played. They will have to do this against Toronto FC without recently injured Roger Espinoza and the suspended Dom Dwyer.
After a couple of seasons of spending large to ultimately fail in their quest to make the playoffs, it's starting to look like this might finally be the Reds' year. They sit third in the Eastern Conference and recently brought in US international Herculez Gomez to bolster their attacking depth. They are top heavy with a bit of a leaky defense that has the second-to-worst goals against average in the league, but their attacking corps of Michael Bradley and especially Sebastian Giovinco have vaulted them to a playoff position. Bradley is expected to be back after missing the previous week due to a calf injury.
Who to Watch
Sporting KC - Paulo Nagamura
This section isn't just for the match against Toronto FC but also a look at the rest of the regular season to come. With Espinoza likely out until the playoffs, Nagamura is going to be thrust back into the starting role that he has owned for the past couple of seasons. This offense with Giovinco and Bradley will be one of the toughest that Nagamura has to deal with and could be a microcosm of the rest of the season to come. In both instances, Nagamura needs to come up big, providing a backdrop to Benny Feilhaber on the attack and a destroyer to complement Soni Mustivar on the defensive end.
Toronto FC - Sebastian Giovinco
Giovinco is in this section purely because of how much of a joy it is to watch an elite player in his prime put a team on his back and lead them to a comfortable spot in the table. He has 16 goals on the year and has, on multiple occasions, made defenses look foolish with his skill. The Toronto FC offense runs through him and he has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game. Whether it's his own skill or Sporting KC's attempts to stop him, Giovinco will likely play a large part in this match.
How They'll Win
Sporting Kansas City
Losing Dom Dwyer for a match where offense is going to be a necessity is tough for Sporting KC, but they'll still need to generate a substantial attack. Where the Reds' attack is dangerous, their defense is porous and Sporting KC need to take advantage of this. Krisztian Nemeth, the likely center forward, is going to need to have a big game while the support from Zusi and Feilhaber need to be there at crucial points. Toronto FC has Jozy Alitdore out, but stopping Giovinco is such a large task that focus should be more scoring on the other end.
The best way for Toronto to earn three points here is to limit Sporting KC's control of the pressure. If they allow Sporting KC to press forward and play their game in the Toronto defensive half then they will have a hard time using their attack that has led them to third in the conference. Bradley needs to be able to neutralize Feilhaber and to set up Giovinco once the ball goes into the attack half. If they get Sporting KC playing on their back heels the whole match then they should be able to win this match.
Readers' Vote SKC Lineup: Melia; Dia, Besler, Ellis, Myers; Mustivar,
Espinoza*, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Zusi, Nemeth, Hallisey.
Ben's SKC Lineup: Melia; Dia, Besler, Ellis, Myers, Mustivar, Nagamura, Feilhaber, Peterson, Nemeth, Zusi
*The news that Espinoza was out for this match came after many voted, so the next highest vote getter (Nagamura) was slotted into the lineup.