Friday, October 19, 2012

Back to Close Out League Play

After having last weekend off due to the international break, Sporting KC is returning to action tomorrow when they'll take on the New York Red Bulls.  With only two games left, there's very little room for error as KC looks to hang on to first in the Eastern Conference and home field advantage through at least the conference finals. 

New York comes into the game still having not clinched a playoff spot, but currently sitting in 4th place in the East.  A win tomorrow and the Red Bulls can clinch not only a playoff spot, but a top 4 finish at the same time.  Not only that, but it would put New York within 3 points of Kansas City with 1 game left and New York holding a much superior goals scored number.  After the poor performance the last time these two teams met, they'll want to have an improved performance as New York was extremely lackluster in Sporting's 2-0 win in New York back in September.  Since that loss, the Red Bulls are 1-1-1, including losing a second game at Red Bull Arena, 2-0 to the Chicago Fire.  Tim Cahill has returned from the other side of the world and appears set to start the game for the Red Bulls.  Meanwhile, Thierry Henry has labeled KC as the best team in the league ahead of this match up.

Kansas City can clinch a top two spot with a draw in this game, and can come within a point (or a dropped point by Chicago) of clinching the East with a win.  Kansas City has continued their 10 game unbeaten run, picking up 22 points during that run which has kept them on top of the East.  There are two big questions regarding the game tomorrow for KC though.  The first is who will replace Roger Espinoza.  Espinoza hurt his ankle near the end of the game against the Crew and will miss at least this game and possibly the season finale against Philadelphia recovering so that he's ready for the playoffs.  The obvious replacement would seem to be dropping Graham Zusi into the midfield and inserting Jacob Peterson or possibly Bobby Convey.  Another possibility is to leave Zusi up top and insert the likes of Oriol Rosell into the midfield.  The other question is whether Peter Vermes sticks with Lawrence Olum at center back or brings back Aurelien Collin to the starting lineup.  KC's defense has remained strong with Olum in their, but most fans seem to feel more comfortable with Collin in the back.

Myers - Olum - Besler - Sinovic
Cesar - Nagamura
Kamara - Sapong - Peterson

Numbers to Remember - 1 - While a win would be fantastic, a point guarantees a top 2 finish and means that KC could clinch the Eastern Conference at home with a win over Philadelphia.

Key Match Up - Paulo Nagamura vs Tim Cahill - With Espinoza out, the responsibility of handling the Australian international will probably fall on the shoulders of Nagamura.  Cahill has backed off his "KC is nothing special" comments, but he's still going to be a massive handful for Nagamura and Sporting to deal with.

PREDICTION - A win would be great and would keep the pressure on San Jose for the Supporters' Shield, but in reality that's out of reach at this point.  The key now is to win the East and finish with the second best record in the league, finish ahead of as many teams as possible so that in case San Jose stumble KC can host MLS Cup at LSP.  But in New York, against a Red Bulls team that has under achieved is going to be tough.  Even with a lame duck coach in Hans Backe who looks very likely to be out of New York after the season.

SKC - 1 (Kamara)
NY - 2 (Henry, Cahill)

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