Valdes vs. SKC 2011

PBPP: Strong Sporting KC side presents next Union challenge

If you were wondering just how good Sporting Kansas City is, look no further than this past Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Seattle. I know that the Sounders have struggled lately, but that's still a tough venue for visiting teams to come away with points.

Yet that's what Sporting Kansas City did, despite the fact that their three best players didn't start the game and a fourth starter also was not a part of the starting 11. Consider that regular central defender Matt Besler and left winger Bobby Convey weren't even on the trip because of injury.

Without a doubt, SKC and D.C. United are the class of the Eastern Conference at the moment. Sporting Kansas City has size and speed, and they are relentless for 90 minutes. They may not be the fastest team in MLS, nor the biggest, but when you combine the two, I think this is the most dynamic in the league. They clearly have the players to play in a 4-3-3 which has been the choice formation for manager Peter Vermes for the 2011 and now 2012 seasons.

There's plenty of offensive firepower with the trio of Kei Kamara, C.J.Sapong and Teal Bunbury. They are aided by the man who pulls the strings for them in the center of the midfield, Graham Zusi. Zusi, a former University of Maryland teammate of Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, can do it all. He has great vision and the ability to deliver a perfect ball at the right time. He's also dangerous on free kicks. While shutting him down doesn't guarantee you a win, or even a draw, it does increase your chances to succeed.

For the Union, this means more work for the always-working Brian Carroll. It will be mostly up to Carroll to take Zusi off of his game. Philadelphia will also have to be concerned with the size and speed of the visitors. The size will be a factor on defending set pieces. The speed will be a factor if Sporting Kansas City is allowed to get wide.

Also playing in a 4-3-3, the Union hope for a similar effort as they had against D.C. United. In that game, the Union dominated, with an edge in all statistics. A 1-0 loss didn't reflect how the game was actually played.

Interim manager John Hackworth has some interesting decisions to make in his second game in charge. Hackworth will want to create and maintain some stability with the Union, so I wouldn't expect many changes in the starting lineup, unless there's an injury (Sheanon Williams is doubtful with a toe injury). One change you could see is Lionard Pajoy returning to the lineup, as he is back from his one-game suspension.

With two teams playing a similar formation, keep your eye on who has the edge in the midfield. If the Union can play like they did versus D.C., they can get a result.

The one thing Philadelphia must avoid is giving SKC that first goal. Sporting Kansas City has scored first in 11 of 14 games and are 8-1-2 when they get that first goal. 

WATCH: Union-Sporting KC preview


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