This Sunday, July 10th, 2016 at 7:00 PM CT, Sporting Kansas City host the suddenly hot New York City FC in an interconference battle in Kansas City, KS. NYCFC are currently riding a four game winning streak which trumps Sporting KC's four game unbeaten streak (2-0-2). New York also have an amazing road record having gone an astounding 5-2-1 on the road this season, which is the best road record of any Major League Soccer team.
Sporting have improved their home record with a dramatic late game winner against the Columbus Crew on Sunday when Matt Besler scored for the first time since 2011 to secure all three points. That said, Sporting KC have four losses at home, more than any other team in the league (well technically tied with the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United).
NYCFC are currently sitting at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference (30 points) in their second season in MLS. Sporting are up to 5th place (25 points) after being as low as 8th earlier in the year. SKC have lots of work to do still as most of the teams around them in the standings have at least one game in hand on them.
Things won't come easy for SKC on Sunday as their leading striker and goal scorer Dom Dwyer is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. That's bad news as NYCFC have scored 14 times in their eight road games, which is the highest amount per game in the league (1.75). That leaves SKC without their top scorer on top of the fact that they only average 1.11 goals per game. The good news is they have tallied seven times in the last four games (1.75 goals per game) include three last weekend by players not named Dom Dwyer (Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler).
The good news is Sporting holds the only victory ever in this series. Though that was a 1-0 victory over a team in their first ever month of league play, so it's probably not safe to put much stock in it.
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (yellow card accumulation)
– NYCFC: None
Suspended Next Yellow Card:
– Sporting KC: None
– NYCFC: RJ Allen, Federico Bravo
– Sporting KC:
QUESTIONABLE: Nuno Andre Coelho (hamstring strain), Paulo Nagamura (left calf strain), Chance Myers (hamstring injury)
OUT: Connor Brandt (bilateral hip arthroscopy), Steven Mendoza (core injury)
QUESTIONABLE: Ethan White (adductor strain), Frederic Brillant (hamstring injury)
Sporting Kansas City’s Last Five: L/D/W/D/W
NYCFC's Last Five: L/W/W/W/W
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (8)
– NYCFC: David Villa (12) *league leader
Starting XI Prediction:
Abdul-Salaam – Opara – Besler – Medranda
Feilhaber – Mustivar – Espinoza
Zusi – Rubio – Davis
Rest of the 18: Kann, Hallisey, Mapp, Peterson, Ellis, Olum, Alvarado
Last week I missed it by not knowing Lawrence Olum would start over Matt Besler. I can't imagine that will happen again, especially after Besler's late heroics this past weekend. He is one game away from his 200th start and I have to imagine that will happen this Sunday.
Another possible change to the lineup includes new signing Ever Alvarado. The MLS summer transfer window opened on July 4th which means Alvarado can officially join the team. That said, Peter Vermes hasn't shown a propensity in the past to put new signings straight into the lineup, so Seth Sinovic could be on the bench in his place. Over the next few weeks Alvarado could make some substitution appearances or ever get a start at left back. That would allow Jimmy Medranda to move up top and push Brad Davis down to more of a super sub role.
The keys to this match-up will really come down to slowing down this NYCFC juggernaut. They look very sharp lately and haven't allowed a goal in 272 minutes. SKC will rely on Zusi to keep playing like he did last week and when he was with the United States National Team. That means creating his own shots and moving centrally more often and allowing the fullbacks to maintain the width (side note: Zusi totally looks better after I came up with 10-20 replacements for him. Coincidence? I think not). Also, if Zusi is making runs and attacking the goal that will give Brad Davis more options to serve in balls and finally get his first assist as a member of Sporting KC.
To keep David Villa from adding to his league leading goal total whoever the starting center backs are will have lots of work to do (Vermes could stick with Olum and Opara). He will shoot from almost anywhere and can score from nearly anywhere as well. Another problem is Thomas McNamara is having a career year and currently has 6 assists. He usually lines up on the left which would make him Abdul-Salaam's responsibility. That may mean that SAS needs to stay home more to help out his backline. Especially since Jimmy Medranda can sometimes be a little reckless on defense (despite his fairly good numbers this year).
Regardless, everyone in the back needs to be wary of Villa's ability to draw and/or sell penalty kicks. Villa has scored from the spot on three of four attempts with the fourth being a slip that he skied into the 40th row. He won't slip again, especially on the well maintained field at Children's Mercy Park.
One last thing worth mentioning about lineups is Mikey Lopez. In the offseason he moved from Sporting KC to NYCFC. He has six starts and 12 appearances and it seems likely that he'd get to see the field against his former club. It will be interesting to see as he is a feisty player. He's already been called for 15 fouls and received five yellow cards on the year. You have to wonder if he harbors any ill-will to the team that let him go after last year.
Back to scoring goals. It's entirely possible that Sporting will be in a good spot without Dwyer, who they too often rely on for all of their offense. With him out of the game (and virtually no backup option available for Diego Rubio), the other members of the team will be forced to step up and take chances for themselves. I'd definitely prefer to see more shots from Zusi and Davis which should only open up more space for Rubio. The outcome of the game will likely depend on just that.
Prediction: 2-2 Draw
Draws at home are becoming less and less acceptable the later it gets in the season, but it's better than adding to our horrendous home loss total. New York is a good team and a point against a good team means a lot in the MLS Cup Playoff chase.