Orlando City (6-3-0, 18 points) returns from a tough two-game road swing to face the stubborn defense of Western Conference power Sporting Kansas City (5-2-3, 18 points). The Lions and SKC have split their two previous meetings, with each winning on its home field.
The Lions enter on the back of two straight losses that looked very different — a good performance with a lack of finishing at Toronto, and an abysmal showing at Houston. Sporting arrives fresh off one of its two losses on the season — a forgettable 2-0 result at expansion Minnesota United.
Here to help us learn more about the 2017 version of SKC is Cody Bradley from SB Nation's Sporting Kansas City site, The Blue Testament. Cody was nice enough to stop by and answer our questions. I also answered his, which you can check out over at their place.
It seems that the key to Sporting Kansas City’s early season success has been a stingy defense. How has the club improved at the back this year and can it sustain this kind of quality throughout the year?
Cody Bradley: Each of the back four have been on the team a long time. They understand the system, what is required of them, and the biggest thing this year has been that they know each other. The cohesion among these guys is amazing.
The left side of the defense – Besler and Sinovic – have literally been playing together since youth soccer growing up in KC. The two of them have really hit full stride after dealing with injuries and falling out of favor. Ike Opara is simply doing what he has always done, he is just finally staying healthy. What really brought it all together is Graham Zusi moving to right back. He has proven to be one of the most effective RBs in MLS going forward. He's obviously shown he can lock it down at the back as well. He brings a veteran presence and technical ability to the position that has added a wonderful dynamic to the squad.
As the loss to Minnesota made crystal clear, those four players working together are why the defense is so good. To answer your question, yes they can continue if everyone stays healthy.
Many Orlando City fans will be disappointed not to see former Lion Dom Dwyer in the lineup due to his yellow card suspension. How has Dom managed to accumulate so many bookings early this season and how do you expect Peter Vermes to replace his threat in the offense?
CB: Dom Dwyer is going to Dom Dwyer. Yellow cards are part of the territory. A couple of them were really bad decisions of his, but Orlando fans know very well the kind of player he is. He tackles hard. He likes to talk. And stuff happens.
I would really, really love to see Homegrown Player Daniel Salloi get the nod in Dwyer's absence. He has been coming on late at the end of matches and done his job very well. The young Hungarian can be absolutely lethal and he needs more time on the pitch. But Soony Saad may be the favorite to start on Saturday. He has a bit more experience than Salloi and has seemingly been the first choice behind Dwyer in the past. As much as I hate to say it, I just haven't been impressed by Saad so far this year. So my hope is Salloi in the center of the attack.
With a home match in the midweek against conference rival Seattle coming up, what kind of squad rotation do you expect from Vermes?
CB: Sporting KC fans will be scared of squad rotation after the Loons shut them out last week, 2-0. But it will have to happen again in the next couple games. There are still eight players who have started and played almost every minute of all 10 matches this year. Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza are two guys I am terrified to see this team play without, although Peter Vermes really isn't in a terrible spot as he has versatility and several options all over the field. It will be very interesting to see who he rests against an Eastern Conference opponent this weekend to rest up for a Western Conference rivalry next Wednesday. Training sessions were pretty secret this week.
What injuries/suspension absences will affect SKC for this match and what is your predicted starting XI and final score?
CB: Injury report is pretty clean. Diego Rubio is the only man on the list as he works back from knee surgery. Dwyer is the only suspension. But squad rotation is the real question. I can't even tell you how much of a toss-up this is so I'm going with a wild one.
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Jimmy Medranda, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ilie, Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber, Gerso, Daniel Salloi, Graham Zusi
Orlando City 2 - 2 Sporting Kansas City
Big thanks to Cody from The Blue Testament for stopping by and giving us some insight on SKC.