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Defense dominant in Sporting KC's unbeaten run; Chivas USA up next
"It's really fun and special what we've got going right now and it never gets old."
That's how Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi described the team's season after Wednesday night's draw against the Colorado Rapids.
The tie did a number of things for Sporting aside from continuing an unbeaten run in the league that has spanned the course of nine contests. It kept Sporting unbeaten in front of its home crowd at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. It also put the team in sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference, a far cry from dead last in the entire league, where Sporting was just one month ago. The turnaround in results has been impressive to say the least with the team — should its recent form continue — squarely in the playoff hunt.
The reason for the massive swing in fortunes is simple. Defense.
Through the first ten games of the season, Sporting KC allowed 19 goals. In a sport where scoring usually comes few and far between, letting your opponents find the back of the net nearly twice a game is fatal. In previous posts I mentioned Sporting's terrible mistakes, where in many instances during that 10-game road trip the defense or midfield gave the ball away and immediately conceded a goal. It was disheartening to watch them lose games and points the way they were.
Fast forward to today. In Sporting's last seven games the team has allowed just four goals. Four. That's a pretty incredible turnaround for a back line that had looked so out of sorts.
Credit the consistent starting lineup and Aurelien Collin taking the lead in the center for the change. Collin leads by example with his hard challenges and nearly-perfect timing. His presence in the air doesn't hurt either. Matt Besler is another defender whose game has definitely improved. His sliding tackles have been spot-on all season and he's been responsible for saving a goal or two all by himself. Those two in the back, complimented by Michael Harrington and recently Chance Myers, have held teams to one or fewer goals in the last 10 matches.
That defense will need to be on point once against tonight when Sporting takes on Chivas USA in front of the home crowd at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. It'll be the second meeting between the two sides this season, with Sporting taking the victory back in March.
Chivas currently sits in sixth place in the Western Conference, but boasts the same number of points in the league as KC. Chivas will likely be without stellar defender Jimmy Conrad, who suffered a concussion earlier in the season. That means Sporting should have an easier time creating and taking chances in front of goal.
It'll be interesting to see if C.J. Sapong cracks the starting lineup Saturday with his recent run of good form. While a solid spark of energy off the bench on Wednesday, you've got to reward players who contribute in the positive ways Sapong has lately. I'd like to see him and Omar Bravo work together up top, with Sapong acting as a holding striker with his superior size.
Sporting's team will be largely unchanged from recent games and should be able to control the pace of the game against a Chivas side missing a critical player in the back.
Prediction: Sporting KC stays unbeaten at home with a 2-0 victory against Chivas USA.
Game: Sporting KC vs. Chivas USA
Time: 6:30 p.m.
TV: KCTV5 (Channel 5 or 205)
On a side note, the United States Soccer Federation has announced that should Sporting Kansas City advance to the semifinals in the U.S. Open Cup, that game will be held at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.