After a brutal 1-3 loss on against Houston, Sporting KC hopes to wipe away the past two weeks when it travels to take on the New England Revolution tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m.
The Revs are the East’s No. 3 team, continuing Sporting’s brutal Tour de Eastern Conference with yet another match against one of its top contenders. This marks the second of three meetings between the teams this season, with the next at Sporting Park in a couple of weeks.
In the first matchup on April 26, former Sporting striker Teal Bunbury scored the game-winning goal shortly before the end of regulation. Peter Vermes traded Bunbury to the Revs only two months before.
Lots of things have changed since then. The Revs are no longer battling for the top spot in the East. Bunbury’s promising start in the Revs stripe has cooled off. And do I need to mention the roster overhaul we’ve seen since the opening weeks of the season?
Tomorrow’s matchup features two teams trending in opposite directions. The Revs have lost only one of their last five games, and have taken full points from three of those, including a 3-0 smashing of Toronto FC last weekend. And Sporting has been…well…we’re here to look ahead, not behind. Right? (…right, guys?)
Five things to watch:
1. Can Sporting KC get itself together on yet another short week?
Schedule makers did no favor to the boys in blue. They’re about to play their fifth game in two-and-a-half weeks (and they’ve got another one on Saturday). It’s hard to fix things that aren’t working when Peter Vermes and the staff only have a few days in between each match. But, it does make it easier for the team to quickly forget its last game. That’s something they’re going to have to do after two poor showings in the past two weeks. The defence has allowed 3 goals in each of its last two games. The last time Sporting allowed six or more goals in a two game span came at the beginning of the 2011 season, with a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire , and a 3-3 draw with Vancouver. Yikes.
The offense needs to find its old rhythm and start creating chances again. There’s too much talent for this ‘drought’ per se, to continue. Dwyer and Feilhaber are lacking their typical consistency, and same goes for Zusi after his monster game, only weeks ago, against Toronto FC. The lack of offense has come down to the inability to constantly create legitimate goal scoring chances. It’s a good time for Sal Zizzo and Soony Saad to step-up and prove that they can pick up the slack on offense.
The defense also needs to get back into rhythm. The three anchors on the defensive-line have logged a TON of minutes recently. Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin have played every single second of every match since this scheduling-blitz started on Aug. 16 vs TFC. Vermes insists that this isn’t an issue. Perhaps it isn’t. I would imagine that playing without much downtime in the Kansas City (and Nicaraguan) summer does indeed play a role. Unfortunately, the defensive depth is lacking, so those three will have to figure it out on the go.
2. The Revolution have struggled against MLS’ top teams. Sporting KC needs to establish itself as such, despite recent results.
It’s important SKC gets off to a strong start. I know, that sounds like the ultimate John Madden statement. But it’s especially true in this match, if not a dire element in the formula to get a win. Sporting needs to flex its muscles as one of MLS’ top sides all season. They need to demoralize a Revs side that might think it has a chance against a struggling side.
The Revs lost 5-1 to the LA Galaxy last month, preceded by a 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake two weeks before. Followed by a 2-0 loss to Dallas. They’ve lost both games to NY Red Bulls on the year, and split its two matches with DC United.
Outside of its out-of-nowhere 5-0 victory vs the Seattle Sounders in early May, this team lacks wins against elite teams of MLS. The team doesn’t have any recent wins against playoff-bound teams outside of its win last week vs a distressed Toronto FC side. If the Revs haven’t been able to contend with the big boys all year, there’s an element of self-doubt. There’s a part in those young brains–Revs’ average age is 25.3– that goes: “Maybe we aren’t talented enough to beat these types of teams.” SKC can’t let the Revs build up a sense of bravado via early successes in the match.
3. What impact will we see from the Revs’ new DP signing, and USMNT starter, Jermaine Jones?
The offense won’t have an easy time when it goes up against the Revs’ newly minted defensive midfielder. It’s not match day that they’re going up against World-Cup starter level DM’s. The level of defense in MLS is considered substandard, so this will present a bit of a unique challenge.
Jones will likely get major minutes–if not the start–after breaking himself in over the weekend, coming on as a 65th minute sub. And there didn’t appear to be must rust after nearly three months off. He completed 79 percent of his passes and helped New England preserve the shutout against the speedy, Michael Bradley-driven TFC offense.
The Revs’ defence has been shaky and prone to huge mental lapses throughout the season. It would’ve been a prime opportunity for the Sporting KC offense to find its footing. It’ll be interesting to see what defensive impact Jones provides as a ball-winning midfielder.
4. Can Lawrence Olum handle the Revs’ dynamic Lee Nguyen?
Nguyen is the engine that keeps the Revs’ offense ticking, with 10 goals and two assists on the season. He plays as an attacking central midfielder, often behind the striker. He’s going to be floating around the perimeter of the box all game, eager to utilize his dangerous right foot. Nguyen can be like a hiding cobra, who will pop-out of nowhere and strike with venom if not carefully managed (video courtesy MLS):
With Jon Kempin likely to patrol the nets once again, Olum needs to ensure THAT type of goal doesn’t happen. Talk about a way to demoralize an already struggling keeper.
5. Will going on the road do well for Sporting KC’s soul?
It might seem counter-intuitive for a team that plays its home games in front of the league’s most electric crowd, but some time away from Sporting Park might do the team some good. They’re coming off back-to-back disappointing results in front of the home crowd. There would be a a lot pressure on the players to perform well if they had to play this game at home. Since they are off on the road for the next three games, hopefully there isn’t a mindset that might cause the team to try too hard and play outside its normal limits. There’s less to prove, less to satisfy while on the road. Maybe what this team needs is to have the boo-birds released upon them, and go out with an ‘us against the world’ mindset.
They haven’t played bad, nor great, at home with its 5-3-6 record at home. They’re 7-5-0 away in MLS competition. Sporting leads MLS with 7 wins on the road. They’ve proven themselves as road warriors this season. The hope is that they won’t feel the pressure of having to prove that the last two games were just a fluke to nearly 20,000 of their closest friends. Playing on the road and getting away for a few weeks will allow the team to focus on the task ahead.
Prediction: Sporting KC win, 1-0