The games are winding down and every point is vital as Orlando City is running out of chances to make a run for the postseason. It seems like only yesterday we were writing about the Carolina Challenge Cup in preseason. Anyway, Sporting Kansas City visits the Citrus Bowl tomorrow night and they're the lone MLS club our Lions have yet to face in 2015.
Here to help us learn more about SKC is Cody Bradley from our sister SB Nation blog, The Blue Testament. We appreciate Cody taking the time to answer our questions and hope our Guantanamo-like interrogation wasn't too hard on him.
Who are three players from Sporting Kansas City that Orlando City fans should know about?
Cody Bradley: Well, first of all, Benny Feilhaber is everything to this team. He absolutely does it all. He is capable of a wonder strike from 40 yards out, but can keep possession around multiple defenders. He can make a great tackle all the way back on defense, but can destroy a defense with a single pass on the other side of the field. He's got eight goals and 13 assists so far and has himself in the MVP discussion.
Tim Melia, the keeper, is a big reason SKC are in the position they are in. He was an MLS pool goalkeeper last year, and was brought in this season to be a backup. Once he was given the opportunity, he never looked back and has made the position his own. Last game against Portland he pretty much single-handedly got the team the away point with seven huge saves.
Kristztian Nemeth is the other to be prepared for. This is the Hungarian's first season in MLS and he has hit the ground running. It was clear from the first touch in preseason training that Nemeth was going to score goals and be a very important piece to the team. Nemo also has eight goals plus six assists from his winger position. OCSC will not want to see him get the ball in the box, as he can be very clever, and he is especially dangerous with his back to goal.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
CB: Peter Vermes has always gone -- and seemingly will always go -- with the high flying 4-3-3. He requires a lot from his fullbacks as they fly up the wings frequently. They do preach a lot about being able to play an attractive style of soccer and put on a show for fans. With cheeky players like Zusi, Feilhaber, and Nemeth, the jogo bonito is indeed on display quite a bit. But they do play very physical. Because they push forward so much, you will notice that when a ball is lost, they crash immediately. If a foul is called then so be it, the counter attack was stopped.
What are SKC's strengths and weaknesses so far in 2015?
CB: I think what has been the key this year is the depth. This has been another year of being hit big with injuries and call-ups, but everyone has stepped up big. Vermes has played three rookies on the field at the same time more than once this season. He does a fantastic job of putting confidence in his players. Balance has been another big thing. Last year Dom Dwyer was the only person who was going to score. This year, Feilhaber, Dwyer, and Nemo all have eight goals. And then there is Zusi and Espinoza, who are a threat as well.
The weakness now is defense. Ike Opara returned from injury and was paired with Besler in the back. He was playing fantastic and scoring goals (nominated for PotM in March) before he went down with an Achilles injury. Kevin Ellis has stepped up huge, but he is just not a true CB and he is very small. Veterans are returning to their fullback spots, but most of the season there has been a whole lot of inexperience back there.
There was some animosity earlier this season after Adrian Heath's remarks about trying to acquire Dom Dwyer, yet these two teams also worked out a trade in the transfer window. Do you expect a little bad blood between the two sides on Sunday?
CB: Nah, I don't see it like that. I think it makes for good banter between fan bases, but I really doubt if that will show itself on the field. All the various comment boards have been lively with that discussion for sure! But SKC have too much on the line this game to quibble over those remarks from a while ago. Hopefully, they will be all business and focused on the task at hand. With games in hand on the leaders, the Supporters' Shield is still not out of reach.
What is your projected starting XI and predicted score line for Sunday?
CB: (4-3-3) Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi.
Chance Myers has apparently picked up another injury at RB, so we will probably see SAS get his second consecutive start there. We may very well see Jordi Quintilla get his first start in place of Nagamura (in place of the injured Roger Espinoza). Benny would slide back a little bit and Quintilla would probably be the attacking mid.
Sporting Kansas City 2 - 1 Orlando City SC
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Big thanks to Cody for helping us get to know more about our new enemies.