Sporting KC has another huge test this weekend as they travel to face-off with the only other unbeaten team in MLS, FC Dallas. I got with Preston Wetherington from over at Big D Soccer to get some insight from the enemy camp.
Here are your Three Questions But Really Six
We ask them...
The Blue Testament: Maxi Urruti did not play last time around in the 0-0 draw in March. He has three goals in four matches so far this year. How is FCD different with him in the lineup?
Preston Wetherington: Maxi is immense to this lineup. He doesn't only produce goals, but his work rate is irreplaceable. Not many center forwards will track back and contribute defensively like he does. Along with that, he pushes his teammates to be better, and it has shown. He has also taken the pressure off his strike partner, Cristian Colman. He has yet to score a goal in MLS yet, but Maxi is picking up the slack so that Colman can adjust to a new country and a new league.
TBT: IMO Dallas has been the top club in MLS the last few years. I think most MLS fans look at the club with envy. What clubs do you look at with envy? What is something you see around the league and wish FCD had?
PW: Honestly, I envy fanbases. You look at Atlanta that is selling out a 55,000 seat stadium, or the passionate fanbases in Portland and Seattle with the elaborate tifos, and it is incredible. It is great for the league and it is becoming more frequent throughout the league. But Dallas struggles to sell out a stadium under renovation that holds roughly 17,000. I don't know if it is a marketing issue or what, but it is disappointing that Dallas has been one of the best teams in the league, and really struggles to fill up Toyota Stadium.
TBT: It is still very early, but Dallas leads the west in PPG. Have you seen enough of this team to know if they can make another push for the US Soccer treble this year?
PW: You are right, it is very early, and we need to catch up the games in hand. But I do like the depth that this team has this season. Having guys like Javier Morales to bring experience and wisdom to the young guys like Michael Barrios and Paxton Pomykal will be immense for the team. However, I am not too sure if we can compete for the treble, because I am still not completely convinced that Dallas has replaced Fabian Castillo. Roland Lamah has shown glimpses, but he is struggling severely in front of goal. If I were to make a guess, I am going to say we will compete, but I am not too sure we can achieve the fabled treble this season. The main focus will be on the MLS Cup, so they may not put as much focus on the US Open Cup this season now that they have broken the trophy curse.
Big D Soccer Lineup Prediction:
Figueroa, Hedges, Zimmerman, Grana
Lamah, Acosta, Gruezo, Barrios
They ask us...
Big D Soccer: Graham Zusi has been played at right back this season, how has this been working for SKC? On the national stage, there has been criticism of him not being played in his natural position.
Cody Bradley: I can understand the criticism on the national stage, but that is because he was actually effective for the USMNT up front. The past 2+ seasons for SKC on the wing, Graham Zusi was simply not producing like a starter, let alone was he worth his DP contract. But his quality is there. We all know what Zusi is capable of. So he has absolutely found a way to extend his career and it is clearly working wonders. A lot of his success comes from his familiarity with the other three on the back line and it is fair to question him as a true quality RB in this league. We all had questions about his defense, but it is holding up. At the very least... he can't be doing THAT bad when he is part of a defense with four shutouts in six matches.
Beyond opening up a spot for a more productive winger, perhaps the biggest advantage is that it has allowed the team to create from the back. SKC was growing used to untested youth from outside backs but now there is a technical, veteran player with skill and a great passing ability in that spot. They are able to move the ball all over the field with confidence now. This move has open up a lot for Peter Vermes and this squad and I can only think Zusi is going to continue to improve.
BDS: SKC's defense has been immense this sesason, only allowing two goals in six games. What has been the biggest factors of this great start?
CB: I touched on this above, but the biggest factor is how well the back line knows each other. Besler & Sinovic were youth club teammates and everyone has been here for years. Opara & Besler compliment each other wonderfully and they have a great understanding of their roles in each situation.
Like I mentioned, Vermes had been playing rookies and other untested guys at outside back the past few seasons. Seth Sinovic is healthy and has rediscovered his form on the left side of the field. Now has the obvious quality of Zusi on the other side. All of a sudden this is a lock down defense full of smart, veteran players who know each other - and Vermes' system - like the back of their hands.
Ike Opara is the key. He has been absolutely brilliant. He's a freak of nature and bailed out the defense several times. But the man to really bail this team out this season is of course Tim Melia. He doesn't face too many shots but he comes up with at least one big save every match. With the results and numbers the defense has put up this year, we could rave about basically everyone.
BDS: To follow up with that, Sporting Kansas City has the second least amount of goals scored so far, how can they open up the scoring to make a solid playoff push this season?
CB: This is still the question of this early season I suppose. The last couple matches we have seen more to like from the offense. Benny is back after missing two games with an injury, Gerso & Medranda are finding themselves on the wing, and Dwyer has goals in two straight matches. Peter Vermes is in a situation with options and talent that he would have laid awake fantasizing about last season. Most of SKC Nation believes this offense is in a much better spot and that the goals will start to flow. With the form the defense is in at the moment, these guys look more than capable of staying near the top of the table.
The Blue Testament Lineup Prediction:
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Jimmy Merdranda, Dom Dwyer, Gerso