Well this might be one of the highlight matches of the weekend, RSL with 3 straight wins is the hottest team in the league so far this month, and Sporting KC have comeback from long odds and find themselves just a point out of first place in the Eastern Conference. Oh and these two teams just don't like each other much lately, after a couple of questionable tackles in a spring scrimmage. So to help you get ready for the match, I exchanged 3 questions with Justin of "The Daily Wiz" the SB Nation blog that covers Sporting KC.
Here are his responses to my questions:
1. So Sporting KC has a ton of offense and is tied for the most goals scored in the league, but on defense SKC have allowed more goals than any other team that would make the playoffs. Are Sporting trying to play that run and gun style of we don't care if you score we can score more than you?
A. Without a doubt, I think offense is the strong suit of Sporting Kansas City, but I don't necessarily think that Sporting manager Peter Vermes has a run and gun mindset. To me, the discrepancy between goals scored and goals allowed has a lot to do with the mental lapses the team seems prone to, specifically late in games. There was the Sporting Seattle match on August 6th, where Sporting led almost the entire game, only to give up two goals after the 90th minute to Mauro Rosales, and Lamar Neagle. Then there's the FC Dallas match August 27th, where Kansas City led 2-0, and eventually lost 3-2, after conceding two goals late in the game. A lot of times it seems like the defense will play very well an entire game, and then someone will do something boneheaded, whether that is missing defensive assignments, or players receiving red cards.
To me, the only thing Sporting Kansas City is lacking is the ability to consistently stay focused for an entire 90 minutes. It's actually somewhat odd that Sporting Kansas City has allowed that many goals late, because I feel like sometimes Vermes tends to become very defensive minded once his team gets a lead. Ultimately, the ability to correct giving up the late goals in games is going to be key in whether or not Sporting Kansas City can make a playoff run.
the rest of the Q&A after the jump:
2. A couple of guys have really made an impression on me this year from Sporting, first Kei Kamara who has become one of the top MLS players on Twitter and whose snowball fight is now a thing of grassroots marketing legend, then both Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong who both are having a huge impact this year. How do you see these players, and who else is a real difference maker for SKC?
A. Well, all three of those guys you named have been huge for Sporting Kansas City this year. Kei has truly been a force on the offensive side of the ball, scoring 8 goals this season. Graham has, in my opinion, become one of the best midfielders in MLS, and the power he's been getting behind his long shots have been amazing. But probably most surprising of those three is Sapong, who many fans weren't happy when Sporting Kansas City drafted him in the MLS Superdraft this season. That's not meant to be a dig at CJ in any way, it's just that Sporting had plenty of forward options on the team already. I think it's safe to say that fans are beyond happy with that pick now. Sapong has been extremely consistent in his rookie campaign, and combined with Teal Bunbury, it appears the team is set at the center forward position for some time.
As far as other players making a big difference this year; Jimmy Nielsen. I can't explain how important his contributions have been to the team. He's one of the top goalkeepers in the league, and the fans simply love the guy. I don't think very many people expected so much from Jimmy when he first came here. A lot of fans were very upset about Kevin Hartman leaving. Jimmy has went above and beyond expectations.
Chance Myers comes to mind as well. Chance was the top pick of the 2008 MLS Superdraft. Obviously there were a lot of expectations for the guy coming in as a rookie, but a rash of injuries somewhat plagued his career until this season. He's been able to stay healthy, and he's finally coming into his own. He's a very good right back that isn't afraid to contribute on the offensive end.
3. So anyone who pays attention knows that Sporting KC started with 10 straight road matches before LIVESTRONG Sporting Park was open, how did SKC go from a horrible start to being within a point of the top of the Eastern Conference has to have more than just a new stadium behind it and what will they need to do in order to get a result on Saturday?
A. I think LIVESTRONG Sporting Park has had a lot to do with the success of Sporting Kansas City during the second half of the season. The crowd support has been amazing, and you can tell that the support of the fans really fuels the players on the pitch.
I think another factor would be that Peter Vermes has finally found a core lineup of guys that are a cohesive unit, and have a very good understanding of each other. The starting lineup that took the field for the first game of the season for Sporting Kansas City included players like Milos Stojcev, Craig Rocastle, and Luke Sassano. All of these players have been pushed from the starting XI since then. Roger Espinoza was still playing left back at the time. It's definitely interesting to see how much the lineup has changed from then until now, whether it was due to injury or to another player outplaying one of the starters. It just seems to that everything started to come together, and combined with the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, Sporting Kansas City has been able to turn the season completely around.
In regards to what Sporting will have to do to get a result against Real Salt Lake, I'd mention two things; 1) avoiding the mental lapses I spoke of earlier, and 2) finishing scoring opportunities. Even in the 3-0 win against Houston last Saturday, Sporting still should have probably scored at least two more goals. Omar Bravo had a very good one on one chance with Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall, and Seth Sinovic missed a chance to score from only a few yards away after a nice pass from Bravo. Sporting can't afford to not convert on good chances if they want to have the opportunity to get a result at Rio Tinto.
If Sporting can do those two things I feel good about getting at least a point on the road.
Bonus Question: If you could add one RSL player to the SKC roster who would it be and why?
A. That's a good question. The obvious choice to me would be Kyle Beckerman. The Sporting Kansas City midfield has been very good as of late, but I love the idea of Beckerman teaming up with Zusi in the middle. Beckerman's been very good this season, and his ability to set his teammates up for scoring opportunities would be a nice addition to the Sporting squad. With Kansas City's depth at the forward positions, I think Beckerman would have a field day finding ways to get the ball to Sapong, Bunbury, Kamara, and Bravo.
So there you have it, if you want to check out the answers I gave to Justin's questions about Real Salt Lake, just check out his post on "The Daily Wiz", is it wrong that I kinda giggle each time I get to type "The Daily Wiz"? I mean "The Daily Wiz" is just kinda fun to type.
OFF MY SOAPBOX