KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 9: Graham Zusi #8 of Sporting Kansas City advances the ball past Heath Pearce #3 of Chivas USA on July 9, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)
The two teams can't be farther apart in the tables; Sporting is first in the East and Chivas last in the West. However, Chivas is riding high after beating Real Salt Lake and is the first road opponent of Sporting's six-game Western Conference swing.
The second leg of the Spring "Sporting KC Goes West" tour leads them to Los Angeles to face last place Chivas USA. The Goats do have something to build on after beating "Week Two MLS Cup Favorite" Real Salt Lake on the road last week for their first win. While noting the win came on a goal mostly against the run of play in a match thoroughly controlled by Real Salt Lake, who does that sound like to you? If you answered the 2011 Sporting KC team, you are spot on.
However, this is the 2012 version of Sporting KC. Certainly the only thing perfect so far is the record, but observe how this team increases their dominance as the game progresses. The killer instinct has served them well in two late wins and a blowout while up a man. While in a vacuum this should be the easiest non-conference road game of the year, the aforementioned giant killing confidence surge for Chivas and several other factors may (or may not in a certain midfielder's case) come into play.
Wearing the Opponent Down and Dead Balls
The complaints about Sporting KC's "thuggery" last week were heard loud and clear from Dallas last week. It would feel better to deny the claims wholeheartedly, but I would rather accept it cautiously. With the style that Sporting KC plays, there will be fouls. They press, and on occasion, the pressing is done with reckless abandon, which rightfully leads to cards like they received when it gets over the top. The downside of this is the first halves of matches sometimes break down into a choppy free-for-all. Admittedly, it's not the Brian Mullen career-threatening type of fouls, but still it can rub people the wrong way.
The upside of this is the mental and physical toll the relentless nature of Sporting puts on an opponent. The second half of last week's game was wave after wave of Sporting pressing and transitions to attack. While most teams prefer to win the ball in the middle of the field (giving more options to advance), Sporting has shown a keen ability to win on the wings and play one-two's between the fullbacks and wingers. As the game moves on, chasing Kei Kamara and Bobby Convey down the wings gets harder and that one step behind is the difference between a draw and a loss.
The caution in the acceptance of fouls comes from free kicks. The advantage in the run of play is certainly in favor of Sporting KC. They still haven't given up a goal in the run of play, nor have they even conceded many solid chances for goals. But as we saw last week, one free kick is all it takes to change the game, and the more fouls the more chances Chivas has to pull an upset. On the flip side, Sporting also has a significant advantage because of the deliveries from Graham Zusi and the aerial abilities of Kamara, CJ Sapong, and Aurelien Collin. In the most obvious analysis of the week, it's best for both teams to avoid those.
My first guarantee of this preview is this: Dan Kennedy will not lose this match for Chivas USA. I assume his defense will. Last week, there were many times when Real Salt Lake should have scored, either pulling out a draw or even winning that match. It wasn't just Real Salt Lake creating chances; the Chivas mistakes were numerous. From failed markings to errant passing in their own third, it was hard to watch and also a great source of schadenfreude watching RSL flub every chance given away. The positive they could take away is their set piece defense was much improved from the first two games, and of course, a win's a win
They were in an defensive 4-5-1 last week and it will be interesting to see if they widen out their defense to counter the Sporting strength. If not, they may find themselves outmanned on the wings as FC Dallas was. Widening the field gives Zusi and Roger Espinoza more room, and the only thing worse than one-two's on the wings are the same thing in the central midfield between the central mids and striker.
Who's Ryan Smith?
Ryan Smith started the last game in midfield for Chivas USA. He used to play for us, so there should be a great storyline in that as if one side was scorned and that allows revenge subplots and other nonsense. My prediction is he's on the field and we hardly notice. As for the former Chivas USA player on our roster Paulo Nagamura, I predict he's not on the field and we notice him the same amount. It's hard to trump up something that isn't there, but get ready for it to be talked about on both broadcasts for entirely too long a period of time.
This is not meant to say anything about Smith's abilities, which we saw some flashes of in Kansas City. More to the point, I just don't expect a goal (like Jimmy Conrad scored last year) in this game.
Hopefully nothing new in the starting eleven. I could see Teal Bunbury starting for Sapong, but I like Sapong more based on what I saw of Chivas last week. I'm guessing both will play in this game either way.
Sporting KC 2- Chivas USA 0
I'm wary of another one of those Dan Kennedy wonder games, but the Chivas back line didn't look good last week in a shutout. Here's to riding a hot hand and none's hotter than Sporting KC right now.