Scouting report: Kansas City
The Supporter's Shield is officially out of reach, but Kansas City can win the Eastern Conference with a single point on Wednesday.
It's the season finale for Sporting (17-7-9, 60 points), who return to LIVESTRONG Park after a 0-0 weekend draw in New York. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was man of the match as Peter Vermes' club staved off numerous Red Bull attacks to earn a point on the road.
This will be the third matchup between Sporting KC and Philadelphia in 2012. The Union hammered SKC, 4-0 in league play at PPL Park back in June. Kansas City got revenge just weeks later, winning 2-0 in Chester in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. Sporting would go on to win the Open Cup following a penalty shootout win over Seattle.
Philadelphia is 1-2-3 all-time against Kansas City.
Kansas City is known for its free-flowing, high pressure 4-3-3 system.
You'll generally see a three-pronged attack up top, with two defensive-minded midfielders interchanging with a forward-thinking playmaker.
In the 0-0 draw with New York, C.J. Sapong spearheaded the attack with Kei Kamara on the right and Jacob Peterson on the left. Kamara and Sapong are the top two goalscorers for KC this season, with 11 and eight goals, respectively. Kamara has also added six assists and played more minutes than any other old field player on the team.
All-star Graham Zusi will move around the pitch ahead of the other two midfielders, who happened to be Julio Cesar and Paulo Nagamura on Saturday night. Roger Espinosa is normally a shoe-in for the midfield, but the Honduras' international is nursing an ankle sprain and may not be 100% for Wednesday's game.
Zusi, now a regular starter for the USMNT, leads MLS with 15 assists this season. He's added five goals and solidified his place as one of the brightest midfielders in the league.
Sporting KC lost striker Teal Bunbury for the season with an ACL tear, but they do have Bobby Convey as an option again following a lengthy injury spell.
Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, and Lawrence Olum have been solid in central defense for Kansas City this year. The first-choice pairing of Collin and Besler is among the best in the league when both players are healthy. Olum is a capable backup and has appeared in 20 games this season.
There's also great consistency at the fullback spots with Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic. Right back Myers has seven assists in 29 games this year. Left back Sinovic has started 29 games and played 2,531 minutes.
Nielsen, the starting goalkeeper for the MLS All-Stars, is having a hell of a season in net. The "White Puma" has played every single minute of every single game and has the second best goals against average (0.79) in the league. His save percentage of 76 is tied for second best in the league.
On Saturday, Nielsen earned his league-leading 15th clean sheet of the season. If Sporting shuts out Philadelphia on Wednesday, Nielsen will tie Tony Meola's MLS record of 16 clean sheets in a single season. Meola set the record playing for Kansas City in 2000.
Philadelphia's lone win against Sporting came on June 23 at PPL Park. The Union are 0-1-1 in Kansas City and earned a draw last year at LIVESTRONG Park. The 2010 Union squad fell 2-0 at the old Community America Ballpark.
In regular season play, Kansas City is 9-3-4 at LIVESTRONG Park this season. Sporting also went 4-0 at home in Open Cup play. In all competitions, Vermes' team is 13-3-4 at home in 2012.
Contact Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kevin on Twitter @PhilUnionKevinK