Kansas City comes back from a week off looking to solidify the defense. Columbus has the opposite problem, needing goals.
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Columbus Crew: Julius James was one of the many off-season changes made by the Crew, and so far he has been arguably the most impressive newcomer. The center half has stepped in for the injured Andy Iro and has done extremely well, and may even hold on to his starting job when Iro returns. James uses his pace and tenacity to compliment the excellent positioning and dominance in the air of Chad Marshall, his central defensive partner. The Crew have not allowed a goal in almost 300 minutes of play, and Julius James has played no small part in the matter.
Sporting Kansas City: Sporting Kansas City’s offense has gotten off to a flying start, scoring eight times in their first three MLS matches. Teal Bunbury has been especially impressive with three goals – including two from the top drawer against Vancouver two weeks ago – in just 135 minutes of game action. Rookie C.J. Sapong has made the adjustment to MLS look simple, with a goal and two assists.
Columbus: While 0-0 draws are good for goalkeeping stats, they can frustrate both supporters and strikers alike. The Crew have just three goals in four games, two of which have been from the penalty spot. Last week against Chivas USA, the Black and Gold managed just two shots on goal. New DP Andres Mendoza has disappointed so far, but it would be unfair to put the brunt of the blame on him, as the service has not come. With Mendoza out last week, nothing changed. Against SKC, who have eight goals in just three games, the home team must be able to create chances at a much higher rate.
Kansas City: As good as the attack has been, Kansas City’s defense has been just as poor, if not worse. They’ve allowed eight goals in three matches, including a three-goal second half output from Vancouver that turned a 3-0 lead into a 3-3 draw at Empire Field two weekends ago. Only the play of GK Jimmy Nielsen has kept the team’s goal differential from getting truly out of hand.
Columbus: Even playing with what amounts to a five-man midfield, the Crew were bossed in their previous fixture, finishing the first half with less than 40% of possession. Their passing was more miss than hit, and the attack never looked like mounting anything in the way of dangerous play. Now, with a couple of new pieces in place, Barcelona-esque tiki taka is unreasonable to expect, but for a club that claims to play possession footy, they did not look like keeping possession of anything. It's still early, but there is too much room for improvement to remain unworried.
Kansas City: Designated Player Omar Bravo will miss 3-6 weeks with a sports hernia injury, so look for Kansas City to continue with their three-forward lineup of Bunbury, Sapong and Kei Kemara. Defensively, changes could be afoot after the supposed first-choice backline of Michael Harrington, Julio Cesar, Matt Besler and Roger Espinoza were downright atrocious against Vancouver. Luke Sassano and Shavar Thomas are candidates to step in and start.
Columbus: Even without Omar Bravo, Sporting KC's offense does not appear to be suffering any ill effects. They have eight goals in three games, with American international Teal Bunbury leading the line. That being said, the SKC back four have let in eight goals, tied for second bottom in the league. Quite the opposite for the Crew, who don't concede very many, but score just as infrequently. This looks like a game that could be a goal fest or turn into another defensive battle. Let's all hope for the former.
Kansas City: Sporting KC should be happy they had last week off from MLS play, as it gave them some time to put the debacle at Vancouver behind them. Peter Vermes will have stressed defensive shape and communication at training during the past two weeks, but it remains to be seen if Sporting have the talent or the chemistry at the back to stamp them as a true top-class team.
Justin Henley: Sporting can't stop scoring or conceding, while the Crew can't score or concede. It will be just another game for the visitors, but a veritable offensive explosion for the home side, as the game will end in a 3-3 draw.
Seth Vertelney: Even goal-shy Columbus won’t be able to stop themselves from scoring multiple times against Sporting KC. I’m predicting a 2-1 victory for the Crew.
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