Friday, April 10, 2015

Match Day 6: A Cross Conference Rival Now in Conference

Since the rebranding of the KC Wizards to Sporting KC, the team has developed a rivalry with Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference. From preseason tackles by Roger Espinoza leading to benches clearing in 2011, to a Chris Wingert deserving a first minute sending off for a challenge on Kei Kamara in 2013 (Wingert was eventually sent off), to an MLS Cup match up between the two that saw KC come out on top in a 10 round penalty kick shootout. Now the two teams are in the same conference after the additions of NYCFC and Orlando City. That means that the teams will be facing off three times in the regular season, giving the two teams plenty of time to build on the rivalry that has started.

Salt Lake comes into the game as the only remaining unbeaten team in the league, currently sitting with a 2-0-2 record after they handed San Jose their first loss in their new stadium with a 1-0 win last Sunday. Despite Jason Kreis' departure before last season, Garth Lagerwey's before this season, and losing two valuable squad players in the expansion draft, Salt Lake is still a tough team. With the offense being led by Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales and the likes of Kyle Beckerman, Chris Schuler, and Nick Rimando in the defensive half, Salt Lake is still a formidable, if a little older (Schuler is the only one of those five under the age of 32). They do have some younger talent though that KC will need to account for in the likes of Luke Mulholland and home grown talent Jordan Allen, who scored the winner in Salt Lake's 2-1 win over Toronto a couple weeks ago.

KC still seems to be attempting to really find their identity. Against Philadelphia KC got the win, but looked less than convincing in the process. Benny Feilhaber has been moved further up the field with the insertion of Servando Carrasco, but against Philadelphia KC's offense continued to struggle during the run of play with all three of KC's goals coming courtesy of a set piece or immediately after one. Of the six goals this season,all but one (Espinoza against Dallas) have come from set pieces. Even with the likes of Ike Opara, KC cannot continue to rely on set pieces as the way they're going to continually win games. Hopefully the return of Krisztian Nemeth to the starting lineup will bing a bit more dynamic style to the offense instead of pounding it forward to an undersized Dom Dwyer against two center backs over six foot.

Other than inserting Nemeth I don't see many/any changes coming to the lineup that started against Philadelphia last week. With Seth Sinovic questionable due to an injury, Marcel de Jong will come back into the starting 11. Who Nemeth comes in for may be the question. Neither Jacob Peterson or Jimmy Medranda had much of a role in KC's win over Philadelphia. Based on the substitution I'd think that Nemeth is going to come in for Medranda, leaving Peterson in the lineup, which doesn't thrill me. Peterson does a lot of the dirty work that doesn't get a ton of credit defensively as a forward, but I'd prefer one that's more likely to contribute to the offense.

Anibaba - Opara - Besler - de Jong
Feilhaber - Espinoza
Nemeth - Dwyer - Peterson

Number to Remember - 61 - Salt Lake fans and staff like to talk about how they don't play KC's "physical" style, claiming they like to play a more possession based style while KC likes to pound on you and pressure. Sixy-one is the number of fouls that both teams have so far this season. Kansas City has reached that number through five games, averaging 12.5 a game, while RSL reached that number in one fewer, averaging almost three more a game than KC at 15.25.

Key Match Up - Benny Feilhaber vs Kyle Beckerman - KC's main offensive creator, especially with Graham Zusi still likely out against RSL's defensive muscle. This should be a good one to watch, both directions as Beckerman's assist in MLS Cup 2013 shows that the defensive midfielder can be a major threat on offense as well.

PREDICTION - It will be interesting to see how this game turns out. KC has been less than impressive this season, even in the win against Philadelphia KC didn't look that good. Meanwhile, Morales is playing some really good soccer right now for RSL. KC is going to have to be more organized as a whole, especially on defensive set pieces when RSL will bring up the big bodies of Schuler and Jamison Olave to join Saborio. RSL will be better defensively on set pieces than Philadelphia was. For KC to win this game, they're really going to need to create more chances from the run of play. The way KC has looked this season I'm not seeing how it's going to come the way the team is playing.

SKC - 1 (Dwyer)
RSL - 1 (Morales)

No comments: