Make no mistake – Sporting Kansas City is as advertised.
The defending MLS champions are off to a 5-2-2 (17 points) start to the season behind commanding wins and a nucleus of national team worthy talent and skill.
However, twice this season two different teams have figured out a way to get the better of head coach Peter Vermes’ bunch and the Union look to make it a third when they take on Sporting Wednesday night at Sporting Park (8:30 p.m., watch on Comcast SportsNet).
Before we take a look at how those losses happened, you have to know the arsenal on this roster. It's all about exactly who the Union will need to keep under wraps – in addition to whom they can exploit.
Graphic: A look at Sporting Kansas City's possible Starting XI and formation in Wednesday's match (8:30 p.m., CSN)
Not easy, but possible.
This attack starts with midfielder Graham Zusi and ends with forward Dominic Dwyer. Dwyer leads Kansas City with six goals in eight matches and enters this match coming off a two-goal performance against Montreal last week, his second two-goal performance of the season. Zusi on the other hand is the consummate provider, leading the team with four assists and is dangerous as either a creator or finishing off an attack. He is expected to be in Wednesday’s lineup despite a call-up earlier this week to the provisional 30-man U.S. men’s national team World Cup roster. Vermes’ pairing of midfielders Paulo Nagamura and Benny Feilhaber to act as orchestrators has been a complete success this season. Nagamura even got himself on the score sheet last weekend against Montreal finishing off a build up from…Zusi. In addition, Uri Rosell does the work to build the attack from the defensive and middle thirds and is excellent at recognizing the play, much like Union midfielder Brian Carroll. Jacob Peterson works the outside flank on the right. Lastly, it could be likely to count forward and Reading United alum C.J. Sapong out for this one, listed on the injury report as questionable with a neck strain.
This is where Kansas City is tough to break down. Start with having one of the best defenders in the country in Matt Besler. Besler was runner-up for MLS Defender of the Year in 2013 and like his Sporting KC counterpart in Zusi was named on Monday to U.S. Soccer’s provisional 30-man roster. Besler holds down central defense alongside Aurelien Collin, a gritty player known for the occasional foul. Collin is a beast in the air and does not shy from a hard tackle but can be overzealous at times on making contact and already has an ejection this season (April 26 vs. New England). On the flanks are generally Seth Sinovic (left fullback) and Chance Myers on the right, who routinely overlap the midfielders on the outside and push into themselves into the offensive mix. Sporting has been known to add Ike Opara in off the bench, but with Opara missing action due to having surgery on his right ankle, expect this back line to look very similar to the one in Montreal. Lastly, is Sporting’s last line of defense in goalkeeper Eric Kronberg. Kronberg, 30, picked up where former SKC goalie Jimmy Nielsen left off, currently leading the league in goals against average at 0.67 and in shutouts with five.
Bottom line, Kansas City is a tough nut to crack. The two teams that have this season Seattle and New England had to score in second half stoppage time at home to secure three points. The key similarities in both of those games was that both teams crashed Sporting’s 18-yard-box hard and with numbers and managed to get goals past Kronberg. The Union has the ability to create chances but judging by past experience against Sporting it’s going to be strength in numbers game in front of goal. Do that, and Union fans could be looking at another celebration like this.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org