Saturday, March 07, 2015

Match Day 1: Sporting KC vs New York Red Bulls

Compared to the offseason ahead of the 2014 MLS season, this past offseason seems like it has dragged on forever for Kansas City. The early playoff exit last season has made for a long offseason, but tomorrow it finally ends when Sporting KC take the field against the New York Red Bulls at Sporting Park. The game is the league's first back on the Fox network after the new deal the league agreed to with Fox and ESPN.

The big story in this game is the turnover from both sides from the end of last season when these teams met twice in a row in the regular season finale and in the playoffs. New York's big departures come in the form of two designated players as both Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill have departed for retirement and China respectively. Meanwhile they've replaced them by bringing in US international, Sacha Kljestan and making Bradley Wright-Phillips a designated player. That's not the only change as the team has replaced head coach, Mike Petke with former Montreal head coach Jesse Marsch.

Kansas City has had plenty of turnover themselves from the team that took the field against these same Red Bulls in the regular season finale last year, and KC's lone playoff game of 2014. The biggest of which is probably the return of Roger Espinoza in the midfield for Kansas City. He'll give KC a more consistent bite than they had last season with Paulo Nagamura who really just struggled to stay healthy again. Meanwhile, KC will have to deal with their center back pairing after the departure of Aurelien Collin to Orlando. So both teams are still working through issues as they head into the season having to adjust after losing key components.

With KC's lineup, the biggest questions have to do with the outside backs. Who plays on the left, is it the veteran Seth Sinovic, or the recently signed Canadian international, Marcel de Jong. And whichever one starts on the left will the other slide right and play the right back spot with Chance Myers still recovering from injury, or will it be Jalil Anibaba or rookie Amadou Dia. A minor follow up question on the line up has to be if Peter Vermes starts Krisztian Nemeth, the Hungarian had a great preseason, spending time in the midfield behind Dom Dwyer. But similar was said about Claudio Bieler last year in the midfield. I think Nemeth playing there is more likely than Bieler was, but will he actually play there? I think at home it's certainly more likely than if KC was opening the season away.

Dia - Opara - Besler - Sinovic
Espinoza - Feilhaber
Zusi - Nemeth - Anor

Number to Remember - 5 - KC is winless in their last four games against the New York Red Bulls, going 0-4-1 in those games. The team hasn't won against New York since a 1-0 win early in the 2013 MLS season. In those five games, they've gone 0-2-1 at home in that stretch, including the home finale last year when they fell 2-0.

Key Match Up - Opara and Besler vs Bradley Wright-Phillips - On his way to 27 goals last year in league play for the Red Bulls, Wright-Phillips scored six goals in the three match ups against Sporting KC. That's the most goals that KC has allowed by one player in a single season in the team's history. Shutting down the New York DP will be an important part for KC in the new season in their only meeting against the Red Bulls.

PREDICTION - I think KC is going to be a decent team this year, they have improved in the midfield this year with the acquisition of Espinoza while improving their wing play with Anor this year. I think they'll be much more cohesive than the Red Bulls will in the first game of the season. KC should be able to take care of the Red Bulls in the opener, the back line is there to be exposed by Anor, Zusi, and Dwyer with some pace. It'll all come down to whether the defense will be able to hold off Wright-Phillips enough to get the win.

SKC - 2 (Dwyer, Zusi)
NYRB - 1 (Wright-Phillips)

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