After starting the season on a blistering seven-game winning streak, Sporting Kansas City have recently cooled off a bit. Still, they are currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference with 33 points (10-5-3). The Crew host Sporting on Saturday night (7:30) in what is the first of three games the two teams will play against each other in 2012.
Columbus played in Montreal on Sunday, leaving with zero points after the Impact came back in the second half to win, 2-1. The Crew are tied for sixth place in the East with 22 points (6-6-4).
Kansas City has played twice in the past week. Last Saturday, they played out a scoreless tie at home against Houston. On Wednesday, Sporting defeated the Union in Philadelphia, 2-0, to advance to the finals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Jairo Arrieta should make his first appearance in a Crew uniform against Sporting. He could start up top with Emilio Renteria, something I would prefer. Justin Meram and Eddie Gaven are both healthy and should start on the wings. Tony Tchani has impressed playing centrally the past couple games. Danny O’Rourke is healthy again. The back four have been steady all season long, but they were a little more shaky than usual last game.
Like last game, Robert Warzycha has plenty of options all over the field. Chris Birchall has started the last three matches on the wing and can also play in the center of midfield. Bernardo Anor has recently been given looks at left-back. Dilly Duka is slowly regaining fitness after a reoccurring hamstring injury. Forward Olman Vargas is itching to prove his worth. However, Carlos Mendes, Julius James, Milovan Mirosevic, and Aaron Schoenfeld are all out for tomorrow.
Sporting head coach Peter Vermes likes to line up in a 4-3-3. Along with Columbus, SKC have given up the least amount of goals in MLS play this year with 17. Acrobatic goalie Jimmy Nielsen is a big reason for the low goals against average. Forward Kei Kamara leads the team with six goals, while C.J. Sapong has five. Attacking midfielder Graham Zusi has eight assists, tied for second in MLS. Forward/midfielder Jacob Peterson has impressed in recent games, including scoring the game winner in the USOC semifinal on Wednesday.
Prediction: Crew 1-2 SKC
Columbus will manage to score a goal in front of the home crowd, but Kansas City’s multi-tiered attack and shutdown defense will give them three points on the road. Sporting’s heavy legs may hinder them toward the end, but they should still hang on for a point at the very least. Hopefully, the Crew’s attack is more dangerous than the lethargic examples we have seen in previous weeks.