Scouting Report: Sporting KC return to PPL Park for Open Cup semifinal
Sporting Kansas City return to PPL Park on Wednesday, no doubt with revenge in mind. The Union dispatched SKC 4-0 just a few weeks ago in a league matchup that sparked Philadelphia's offense and kicked off 4-1-0 run under interim Team Manager John Hackworth.
This time around, the two Eastern Conference foes will battle for a spot in the finals of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Kansas City reached the semifinal with wins over Orlando City, Colorado, and the Dayton Dutch Lions. Peter Vermes' club scored 8 goals and conceded just 2 in those three games.
Normally potent, the KC attack has been inconsistent since that 4-0 result at PPL Park. Sporting scored 3 goals in their next match against Dayton, then failed to score against Chicago. After a 3-1 win at Montreal, the club was again shutout in a 0-0 home draw with Houston.
The usual suspects continue to headline the Sporting attack – Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury, and 2012 All-Star selection Graham Zusi. When in form, each is capable of scoring goals and creating offense.
Jacob Peterson is playing more minutes and got a start against Houston on Saturday. Soony Saad has also seen some time off the bench recently. Bobby Convey has been upgraded to probable with a calf strain injury.
Vermes' typically plays a 4-3-3 shape, but Sporting operated out of a 4-2-3-1 formation against the Dynamo. His club had 17 attempts on goal in that game, but only put 4 shots on target.
The biggest difference this time around is the return of starting center back Matt Besler. Besler, who missed time following appendix surgery, is back in action aside Aurelien Collin, who was also named to the MLS All-Star Game First XI. Kansas City has allowed just 2 goals in the four games following the Philadelphia loss.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is the third and final KC starter named to the MLS All Star roster. He hasn't faced a lot of shots this year, but he keeps the backline organized and has been playing better this month.
Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic have been mostly consistent at right and left fullback. Backup center half Lawrence Olum moves to the bench after filling in during Besler's absence.
Even after giving up 4 goals to Philadelphia, Kansas City is still statistically the second best defense in the league. Sporting have given up just 17 goals in 18 league games, second to Columbus' mark of 17 goals in 16 league games.
Keys to the Game
Philadelphia's 4-3-3 outplayed Kansas City's 4-3-3 by a wide margin back in June. The Union's smaller, but faster lineup was able to exploit Kansas City's defense all night long. This time around, Sporting know what to expect, and you can be sure they'll watch the tape and plan for Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot.
Philadelphia defended extremely well in that match, especially in dead ball situations where KC is proficient. Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong were mostly nullified by Amobi Okugo and Carlos Valdes, while Kei Kamara seemed to be off his game.
The stakes are higher this time around, with both teams just two games away from winning the first trophy of the season. Kansas City won the Open Cup in 2004, with a 1-0 win over Chicago.