Sporting Kansas City has began the year as spent the second half of last year climbing atop the Eastern Conference standings. Not only has the team taken all of the points from both matches, they haven't conceded a goal and Jimmy Nielsen has spent the majority of the matches as a spectator. On the other end, CJ Sapong has not only avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, he has scored in both matches and with Kei Kamara dropped the gauntlet on the ever important contest to celebrate goals better than everyone else. In between, the ever present tenacity and workrate displayed by the midfield ensures that the opponents don't get too comfortable and Sporting remains in control of the game. In summation, almost everything is going exactly as it was envisioned and they look to be the class of the Eastern Conference.
However, tomorrow's match looks to be a sterner test of Sporting Kansas City as they face off against their first Western Conference opponent FC Dallas. Dallas (1-1-0 4 pts. T-6th in the West), is taking to the road for the first time this season to the raucous crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park. Don't take that to mean the Hoops are intimidated, as they were one of the few teams to take away three points at Livestrong last season. Here are the things that stand out looking ahead to tomorrow's match.
Missing U-23 players
While Sporting KC is still lacking the services of Teal Bunbury, FC Dallas must contend with the loss of Brek Shea as well and of the two Shea is the more irreplaceable. Without Shea pressuring down the left, Chance Myers should have more freedom to join the attack and provide the width that lacks in Sporting's midfield. Last week was a perfect example of the linkup between the fullbacks with Seth Sinovic and Bobby Convey on the right. While Kamara is more prone to drifting inward than Convey, expect Myers to press up more this week.
While Sporting KC's backup forwards have little experience, Bunbury's replacement CJ Sapong has been everything expected of him, scoring in both games so far. When comparing the two omissions, the advantage here certainly rests with Sporting KC.
All signs point to Aurelien Collin starting Sunday's match after suffering a hamstring strain in last's weeks victory over New England. The lack of proven center back depth is the glaring weakness on the roster. Let's hope that if Collin can't go or has to leave the match early that the lack of seasoning is a testament to the solid front two rather than an indictment of our backups' skills. The popular second option is to drop Julio Cesar into central defense, but he struggled last year in the back and really found his place when moved to midfield.
For Dallas, as a common refrain the focus is on the ankle of David Ferreira, who has been out since suffering the injury last April, now due to an Achilles' injured during the preseason. The difference between the MLS Cup runner ups of 2010 and the early knockout of 2011 can be partially linked to his absence. Fabian Castillo injured his knee in the season opener against New York, missed the Portland game, and has been out of practice, so don't expect him in the starting lineup either.
Sporting Offense vs. Dallas defense
If Sporting's defense plays as they have in the past two games, they have an advantage on FC Dallas while they lack the dynamic play of Shea, Ferreira, and Castillo. FC Dallas's goals against New York were the result of poor defense, not to take away from the team's overall dominance in the game. Blas Perez scored his first MLS goal against Portland on a rebound off a fantastic save that left the entire goal open.
The Dallas defense is solid across the back and unlike Sporting have no depth issues, allowing George John to come off the bench last week when Hyndman made an adjustment. Expecting John to latch on overseas, FC Dallas signed Colombian Hernán Pertúz and he has started in John's place in both of Dallas's games. Former KC goalkeeper Kevin Hartman is still solid as ever, and this presents Sporting with a formidable test in comparison with DC United and New England's less proven defenses. Without their playmakers on offense, FC Dallas may find themselves under fire with the relentless efforts of the Sporting midfield, but they are one of the clubs most suited to weathering the attack.
Same lineup for SKC as the last game. Nielsen-Myers-Collin-Besler-Sinovic-Cesar-Espinoza-Zusi-Kamara-Convey-Sapong
Sporting KC 2- FC Dallas 1
Sapong's on a roll and I'll gladly ride his bandwagon until the wheels fall off. Let's hope Roger Espinoza finds some luck and nets the second.