Double game weeks, are the best weeks.
Still riding the high from a 3-0 win over RSL, Sporting have the chance to get back on their home pitch. But we have yet another BLEEPING tough match as the New York Red Bulls come to town.
Here are your Three Questions But Really Six
We ask them...
The Blue Testament: Is our old friend Aurelien Collin going to be fit for Wednesday? I know fans in KC would like to be able to show him some love on his return.
Austin Fido: I think probably not, mostly because Jesse Marsch's comments out of training suggest Collin isn't quite back from the injury that caused him to miss the win over Chicago.
But it also should be noted that Sal Zizzo missed that Chicago game too, and Marsch had been suggesting all week that Zizzo would at least be in the squad for that match. The Red Bulls are pretty open about injuries in the squad, except when they don't want to be - and just about every week at the moment, we've been getting injury updates just around the time starting lineups are announced, informing us of some previously-unknown injury or absence in the team that RBNY clearly didn't want opponents thinking about. The team has even stopped issuing starting formations: it Tweets out a list of 11 names and the bench, and leaves it up to fans to figure out what the formation will be.
The knock on the teams Jesse Marsch has put out the last two years was they were good but predictable. And consecutive playoff campaigns have foundered on the fact there was no great response to an opponent willing to take the high-risk approach that best neutralizes RBNY's game plan: give the Red Bulls the ball, sit back, and wait for the counter. That problem ultimately has to be fixed on the field, but one way to be less predictable is to provide less information to those trying to make predictions. So injury reports are honest but obtuse, and the team won't say how it's lining up for a game until after it is played.
The official line on Collin is "probably not" available for KC. But recent experience suggests we ought to be more mindful of the "probably" than the "not". Jesse Marsch seems to have got quite fond of a match-day surprise, and Collin in the lineup would fit that bill.
TBT: NYRB is, as always, among the leaders on the table right now. Is this team better than last year's squad who lost to the Impact in the playoffs after earning the #1 seed in the East?
AF: Not yet. There is a hole in squad of the approximate dimensions of Dax McCarty, and I'm not sure it has been filled just yet. Tyler Adams looks set to be a big deal, but his best days are still ahead of him; Sean Davis has lost his starting place because, I think, he was guilty of perhaps trying to be too much like Dax and not enough like Sean Davis. So the team is still finding its way toward its best lineup and form.
The team is good: three wins in a row is not to be sneered at, even if they were all at home. But to say this team is better than last year's, it would need to be doing something better than the 2016 squad - and it hasn't done that yet. Well, it didn't lose six of its first seven games to start to the year - as happened in 2016 - but the start in 2017 was slow enough that the team has reverted to the formation (4-2-3-1) that brought last year's team (and the one before, and the one in 2014 when Mike Petke was still in charge) its greatest success.
The Red Bulls are still working themselves out this year. The aim is to finish the year better than the 2016 squad, and they're ahead of last year's team at the moment - after nine games in 2016, the team had nine points; this year, it has 16. But there are still a lot of games to be played in 2017. And road games against in-form opponents are where, perhaps, we can judge just how close this team is to outperforming its predecessors.
TBT: Put yourself in Peter Vermes's shoes this week. How would you go about beating the New York Red Bulls?
AF: The standard answer is sit-back-and-counter: the tried and tested way to neutralize RBNY, as Montreal's 2016 playoff squad can confirm. But KC is at home and in form: if I'm Vermes, I don't change a thing. RBNY is good in Harrison, but it has lost its last three road games by a combined score of 8-2 - and I believe that's also the aggregate score of KC's last three home matches. I'd back Sporting KC to beat the Red Bulls the same way other visiting teams have been beaten recently: by being Sporting KC.
Once a Metro Predicted lineup:
(4-2-3-1) Luis Robles; Connor Lade, Damien Perrinelle, Aaron Long, Sal Zizzo; Tyler Adams, Felipe; Daniel Royer, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips
They ask us...
Once a Metro: Five clean sheets in eight games and the only loss to date was 1-0 on the road: what is the secret of KC's defensive success so far this season?
Cody Bradley: We are eight games in and it has officially been long enough that it is not just one thing. Everything is going right, and them some. It's veteran leadership, it's pure athletic ability, it's a legit holding midfielder, it's a great keeper, and it's the offense controlling possession so opponent's chances are limited. It is a little of everything!
But the largest thing is that Vermes found four guys to lock down each position finally. Seth Sinovic has rejuvenated his career at left back and the move of Graham Zusi to right back has been amazing for this team. Ike Opara continues to show he is one of the best central defenders in the league and Matt Besler is back in form after falling out of favor for a while last season. These four guys have played together for a very long time and know each other incredibly well. Hell, Besler & Sinovic were youth soccer teammates here in KC! It is really interesting to hear Besler discuss the understanding between the two center backs and how well they work together. This cohesiveness is what set up this team for success this year. The cherries on top (yes two cherries, because the defense has been THAT good) are Tim Melia at his career peak in goal & the pleasant surprise of just how good Ilie Sanchez has been in his first MLS matches.
OaM: KC seemed to find goals a little hard to come by for a while, but that appears to have been fixed. What was the issue, and why are the goals flowing again now?
CB: I will chalk it up to the early season to try and convince myself. Gerso is new to the league and needed time to get his feet wet. On the other wing there's Medranda who was finally getting his first starts up front and needed to learn his new position. But they were simply missing a lot of chances. The offense was working, they were just lacking the final touch. That is why I'm inclined to blame it on a new season and they weren't in mid season form yet. However, SKC has played some pretty rough matches already. A lot of those matches have been really hard fought points that they can be proud of. The 1-0 loss was on the road in the Dallas, and they have already drawn with them at home as well. They earned a 0-0 result in Toronto and got the one goal they needed to take all three points in Portland. These are all matches it is going to be difficult for anyone to score.
Peter Vermes has so many more options in the attack than he had last year. And it is not even remotely close. Now that Gerso is settled in and the streaky Dom Dwyer has seen the ball go in the net a few times, it could potentially be a scary attack.
OaM: Every team has a weakness - where is the chink in KC's armor?
CB: As it was alluded to above, I think you have to say it is finishing. Dwyer has started to score, but he is still squandering too many chances. Jimmy Medranda is a fan favorite with an insane amount of talent, but he can't seem to get the monkey off his back to start scoring. And the scouting report before Gerso arrived was that he may not have a lethal finish, but he can create a lot of opportunities. But there is a lot of firepower and the goals could come from so many different players so it's working right now. The issue may not sting as much with the defense playing so well, but if these guys can start converting more then this team would be unstoppable.
The Blue Testament Predicted Lineup:
(4-3-3) Melia, Sinovic, Besler, Opara, Zusi, Ilie, Espinoza, Feilhaber, Medranda, Dwyer, Gerso