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  • Sporting KC vs. Toronto FC Match Preview - Sporting Settled but Susceptible


    Toronto FC are set to begin the second half of their 2013 MLS campaign in Kansas City Saturday night against a revived Sporting. In the first half of the year TFC only managed two league wins but, surprisingly, one was against a favoured KC side back at the Rogers Centre in March. Repeating that result at Sporting Park would seem unlikely but, as in late winter, stranger things have happened.

    The match is the start of a three game in eight days run that has come at an awkward time for Toronto. Depleted by Gold Cup call-ups for Jonathan Osorio, Doneil Henry, Kyle Bekker, and Ashtone Morgan, the trade of Luis Silva, and now another injury to Danny Koevermans the team could even find themselves stretching to fill their bench. Fullback Richard Eckersley has been confirmed as available and could make an immediate return to the starting line-up but further reinforcements, in the form of signings, have not yet materialized.


    If the Reds are to have any hope of making a meaningful push for an Eastern Conference playoff spot they’ll likely have to pick up at least five points, if not seven, from this upcoming three game stretch. As in March, however, the team is in a transitional state with a strong likelihood of players being added seemingly on the fly to an ever changing roster. That’s rarely a recipe for success in any group environment but, rather than concede 2013, Toronto management continues to not exclude the possibility of resurrecting their season.

    Sporting Kansas City on the other hand are settling in to the sort of form expected by observers who had them pegged as a Supporters Shield challenger in pre-season. Two wins and two draws from their last four matches is hardly electric pace but, with the return of Graham Zusi from U.S. international duty, Sporting look more and more like the team that finished first in the Eastern Conference in each of the last two seasons.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

    Probably nothing highlights the difference between the respective squad positions of Sporting and Toronto FC than the recent announcement that KC would be loaning 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year C. J. Sapong to their USL Pro affiliate Orlando City. Evidently, the return of forward Kei Kamara from his loan spell with Norwich City of the English Premier League has left Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes confident enough in his options up top to prefer giving Sapong a chance to stay match sharp by getting playing time at a lower level.

    Further, Vermes has suggested that it could be a quiet summer transfer window in the mid-west and that the club would only be interested in adding to their squad, with an eye towards the future, if the right opportunity presents itself. Years of patient talent accumulation from inside the league and via MLS SuperDraft, that were not always met with happiness from KC supporters before the team became successful in 2011, have left Sporting in a position where they can take chances with longer term foreign signings, give those players time to adjust, and not be too hurt even if they don’t live up to expectations.

    In that regard, newcomer Claudio Bieler has been having a steady but mostly unspectacular first campaign at centre forward while last summer’s marquee signing, Barcelona youth product Oriol Rosell, has adapted to his role as the team’s central midfield organizer after the departure of Roger Espinonza.

    One area where Sporting may be a little behind their former selves and somewhat susceptible is in defense. That’s one sense in which KC is somewhat like the Reds: not conceding a ton of goals but having a difficult time keeping clean sheets. Vermes’ team’s high and nearly continuously pressing style is, at its core, a defensive tactic designed to break-up an opponent’s rhythm and prevent them from settling and Sporting should not be confused for an all-out attacking side. So far this year, however, it hasn’t been as successful in keeping opponents off the score sheet. Whether that reflects an adaption to the style by the rest of the league, is a symptom of the difficulty of maintaining the energy levels necessary to apply it year over year, or is simply a bit of bad luck remains to be seen.

    Toronto surprised most by finding three goals at home against Montreal in their last outing and if their forwards can repeat even a part of that in Kansas City they could, once again, find a way to at least a share of the points if not more. Again, in a topsy-turvy MLS season where no team has seemed to cling to mantle of best-in-the-league for more than a few weeks, the unlikely has proven to be more than possible.

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