Sunday, July 3, 2016 at 6:00 PM CST live on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), Sporting Kansas City return home to face the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Columbus Crew SC. This match-up starts a run of home games that includes only two trips away from Children's Mercy Park across the next six games. That's good news for a SKC team that only holds two road wins this year. Better news is that Columbus has yet to win on the road (0-4-3). If we run that back to 2015, the Crew haven't won on the road in nine games (0-6-3).
That said, Sporting KC have not been great at home (4-4-1) with a goal differential of zero (hey, the Crew are minus five on the road). There are reasons for optimism if you are a SKC fan (despite that 3-1 beating they took in the US Open Cup on Wednesday). Sporting have not lost in three straight league games, which is tied for their best streak since they won the first three games of the season. Over this run there is just one win sandwiched by two road draws. I don't know about you, but I'll take draws on the road.
But this is a home game, so Sporting need to find a way to get all three points. I don't need to remind you that Sporting KC need to accumulate a lot of points if they hope to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. With their aforementioned elimination from the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, it's the only trophy they have any hope of winning in 2016 (CONCACAF Champions League won't be decided until 2017).
There is more good news if you are a SKC fan (and I'd say that's fairly likely since you are on TBT). The Columbus Crew are without their best player, Federico Higuain, who had hernia surgery about two weeks ago. As we all know, Higuain had a bit of a falling out with former Sporting player, Kei Kamara, who was subsequently traded to the New England Revolution (ugh, am I the only one who hates all Bob Kraft owned teams?).
The trade of Kamara and the injury to Higuain leave the Crew in a rough spot. That said, Kei's replacement, Ola Kamara (no relation) already has five goals in the six games since Kei left. That said, three of them came in the same game (how ironic since Kei's breaking point was not getting a hat trick -- something he still hasn't accomplished in his career). If Ola were to break our poor hearts, it wouldn't be the first time a Kamara did that in 2016. We all remember when Sporting somehow lost to the atrocious D.C. United club on a late Alhaji Kamara goal (side note -- is Kamara the Smith of Sierra Leone? I think I can say that since I'm a Smith). Let's get to the suspensions and injuries.
– Sporting KC: None
– Columbus: None
Suspended Next Yellow Card:
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer
– Columbus: None
– Sporting KC:
OUT: Chance Myers (hamstring injury)
QUESTIONABLE: Nuno Coelho (hamstring strain), Paulo Nagamura (left calf strain)
OUT: Federico Higuain (hernia surgery), Matt Pacifici (concussion symptoms), Gaston Sauro (torn PCL)
QUESTIONABLE: Conor Casey (right knee sprain), Cedrick Mabwati (malara -- yes, really), Mohammed Saeid (broken back)
Sporting Kansas City’s Last Five: L/L/D/W/D
Columbus Crew’s Last Five: D/W/L/D/D
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (8)
– Columbus: Ola Kamara (5) [and technically Kei Kamara (5) too]
Starting XI Prediction:
Abdul-Salaam – Opara – Besler – Medranda
Feilhaber – Mustivar – Espinoza
Zusi – Dwyer – Davis
Rest of the 18: Kann, Rubio, Hallisey, Mapp, Peterson, Ellis, Olum
The biggest absence that Sporting are dealing with is Nuno Coelho. He had been fantastic before getting injured and has still yet to make his way back into the lineup (though he is back at practice). After that disaster of a combination of Lawrence Olum and Matt Besler in the Open Cup game, it's time to get Ike Opara and Besler on the pitch together. They compliment each other well and I figure Opara only missed Wednesday so he could get some rest (he is injury prone if you hadn't noticed).
The only other missing starter is Myers, but honestly Saad Abdul-Salaam has probably taken over as the starting right back (though I though Kevin Ellis overcame a shaky start Wednesday to show he has a future at right back). He has looked much better than he did in 2015 and he leads the team in assists with four (Brad Davis, the all-time active assist leader with 122, has zero). So with that said, things should be good, right? Well, probably not. This team cannot score goals unless Dom Dwyer scores them or Benny Feilhaber is taking a penalty kick.
Lawrence Olum is third (!) on the team in goals scored with two (to be fair, Davis also has two). Jimmy Medranda has looked like he could score at any moment but the goals simply haven't come. Moving to left back no doubt will limit his chances (though he is still third on the team in shots). The real problem may be Roger Espinoza shooting way too much. He is second on the team and has 29 shots already (we just crossed the half way line of the season) of which only eight are actually on goal. His career high in shots is just 35. He has zero goals. In his seven years of MLS play he only has three and has never scored more than one in a season. Those shots probably should be passes to his more technically gifted teammates. For comparison, Zusi has just 16 shots and should probably take more (I know you all think I'm a Zusi hater).
All that said, if Sporting KC can find a way to score, they should win. They are the better team. They are at home. They are healthier. And they, just like Columbus, had a mid-week game in the Open Cup, so they should be equally tired. Both teams used a mix of starters and backups, so that's no excuse. If Vermes uses his subs right (which is a whole other story) there is no reason Sporting can't keep their unbeaten run going. But a tie isn't enough, they need to win. I'm going to will that into happening.
Prediction: Sporting KC 1-0 Win
Since joining TBT I'm 0-1 on predictions, but don't let that sway your confidence. I chose SKC to lose and they pulled out a draw. Let's hope I didn't just curse them.