Portland comes into this game with a midfield that is still beaten up. The team has three long term injuries in their midfield with Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, and Ben Zemanski all out with long term injuries. The three being out have changed Portland tactics a bit this year. Without any of those three in the midfield, Portland has taken a more direct approach, bypassing their midfield and getting the likes of Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace involved in the play much faster. Against LA, Nagbe and Wallace both caused the Galaxy a number of problems with their pace as each had an assist on one of Fanendo Adi's goals last week.
Not exactly like Portland, but KC has a midfield problem of their own after the first two games of the season. With KC's inverted triangle this year in midfield that has seen Benny Feilhaber play a more withdrawn playmaker role, KC has struggled defensively in the midfield. At times both Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza have been going forward, leaving KC's back four exposed without the safety net in front of them to break up plays. Peter Vermes tried to negate that a bit against Dallas by inserting Paulo Nagamura into the midfield, but KC still struggled with gaps between the midfield and defense. With Portland's direct style that they're playing right now, leaving gaps like that will cause KC a lot of problems.
The big question for the team may be who starts at left back, Canadian international Marcel de Jong, or last year's starter, Seth Sinovic. Whoever gets the call will be the one called upon to mainly deal with Nagbe for Portland, not an easy ask at all.
Dia - Opara - Besler - Sinovic
Feilhaber - Espinoza
Zusi - Nemeth - Anor
Number to Remember - 1999 - If KC fails to get a win tomorrow, it'll be the first time since 1999 that the team has gone through the first three games of the season without recording one win. The last time the team went two games into the season without a win was 2009 when the team won their third game 2-0 over San Jose. KC has traditionally been fast starters.
Key Match Up - KC outside backs vs Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace - As I previously mentioned, Portland has been playing a more direct style this year because of their midfield injuries. That, and with KC's style of high pressure means that KC's outside backs are going to have to be on their toes tomorrow because the combination of the two styles could leave Sporting very exposed in the back for the likes of Nagbe and Wallace to have a field day. Whether it's Sinovic or de Jong on the left, and whether it's Dia or someone else on the right, they're going to have to be on top of their game defensively to deal with Portland's wingers. Last weekend against Dallas the team struggled to cope with another pacey winger, Fabian Castillo, hopefully they've learned their lesson.
PREDICTION - This isn't a must win game for KC at this point, but a win would certainly be a big boost here. KC hasn't won a game since a 2-0 win over Chicago on October 10th. That's four straight league games without a win, and six straight in all competitions with the CCL loss in Costa Rica and playoff loss to New York. It's not something that Sporting has had to deal with in a long time. Shutting down Portland's wing play will be key. Unfortunately that's really not something that KC has been successful with over the last year or so. The team's high pressure leaves them exposed, especially on the wings. If KC is going to continue the high pressure, KC's forward and wide midfielders are going to have to be really tight with their pressure, giving a lot of space will get Nagbe and Wallace the time to get open against KC's outside backs and we've seen how well that's gone for KC. Both teams are really needing a win to get their season going. While I'm not overly confident that KC can get all three points, I think KC does get things done tomorrow night against Portland.
SKC - 2 (Dwyer, Nemeth)
PTFC - 1 (Wallace)