Behind Sporting Kansas City’s supporters section known as “The Cauldron” a large banner reads, “Welcome to the Blue Hell”. D.C. United will run into that kind of “friendly” passion Saturday night when it challenges Kansas City on the road with a chance to move into first place with a win.
D.C. United’s season of redemption and recovery is set for another exhilarating encounter. Sporting is in first place, two points ahead of United, but the Black and Red has played one fewer game. Regardless of the math Sporting has been setting the standard all summer in MLS’s Eastern Conference and only has two losses since the end of May.
One of SKC’s losses was to D.C. United back on May 31 at R.F.K. Stadium when Fabian Espindola delivered the game’s only goal. Since that defeat Sporting has gone 7-2-1 with the draws at home to Chicago and Philadelphia and the loss a 2-0 result on the road to Vancouver. In short Sporting rarely stumbles and is as connected in attack as it is disciplined on defense.
Most recently in league play Sporting flexed its muscle with a 4-1 win over Toronto, but like United had mid week obligations in the CONCACAF Champions League. While D.C. had the luxury of staying at home for its 1-0 win over Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC, Sporting had to travel 2,000 miles to earn 1-1 draw with Nicaragua’s Real Esteli.
1. Build off momentum from 4-2 win over Colorado. In Sunday’s win over the Rapids the brightness returned to United’s attack. Conventional thinking leads to more conservative play on the road, but in losses to Houston and Real Salt Lake United rarely threatened. With Fabian Espindola back in the starting lineup United was able to retain possession and sustain attacks. There was a real connection between Espindola and Luis Silva and that opened up opportunities on the flanks for Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon. Perry Kitchen’s return from card accumulation also made a difference in the midfield and with Chris Korb still sidelined by a hamstring injury Taylor Kemp will have a chance to build on the best game of his young career.
2. Winning the midfield battle. It is cliché and often said in soccer, but United’s success in Saturday’s game might be dealing with Kansas City’s midfield. Benny Feilhaber and Grahame Zusi form a strong partnership in the center with Lawrence Olum providing cover beneath them. Fortunately United has its own dynamic tandem with Kitchen and Davy Arnaud. Both teams have exciting flank players and goal scorers that can finish up top, leaving the middle as the battleground.
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