Just over a year after his record-setting move, Dom Dwyer will return to Kansas City this weekend. Orlando City travels to the Midwest to meet Sporting Kansas City in the clubs’ annual showdown with a few more storylines than normal. SKC’s defense has been uncharacteristically average in 2018 but the offensive collective of the midfield and forwards has propelled Peter Vermes and company to challenge for the top spot in the Western Conference. Add in that the match is taking place during an international window and there are even more twists in the story.
To answer some questions about this year’s version of Sporting KC, Editor Cody Bradley of SB Nation’s The Blue Testament stopped by to offer up some insight. You can check out my answers to his questions over at their place.
Sporting’s normally-stout defense has been leakier than normal this season with the team on pace to allow the most goals it has since 2015. Why the difference this year?
Cody Bradley: The defense has definitely been streaky. At the beginning of the season, many fans were starting to get worried about the defense, but they turned the ship around and started looking even better than last year. Then came some injuries, which brought another swoon. BUT THEN... they reeled off four straight shutout wins.
From Ilie in the holding mid to Tim Melia in goal, this is a very solid defensive unit. And it’s controlled by the defensive mind of Peter Vermes. Only two teams in MLS have conceded fewer goals this season.
Diego Rubio, Johnny Russell, and Daniel Salloi will all be away with their national teams this weekend. How will Peter Vermes replace the production of these three important pieces in attack?
CB: It’s always a mystery with PV. He definitely has more options than he could have dreamed about in years’ past. But I think there is really just one big question.
Gerso is almost a sure thing to start on the wing (one of them). Then Vermes will have to decide if his new No. 9, Krisztian Nemeth, will actually get his first start there. It seems obvious that he should, but the other player likely to jump into the attack is Yohan Croizet. Vermes may decide that Nemeth’s experience on the wing is the safer bet over Yohan, who hasn’t played well in that spot.
But like I said, it’s hard to say. Vermes could throw out teenager Gianluca Busio at striker and it really wouldn’t surprise me! However they are listed on the lineup, I expect the striker and wingers to trade off and remain pretty fluid throughout the match.
This weekend marks Dom Dwyer’s first match in Kansas City since last year’s blockbuster trade. How has Kansas City replaced the star forward?
CB: Diego Rubio jumped in and quickly equaled Dwyer’s scoring tally for the season. It’s important to remember that Dom was not scoring for KC when he left. Rubio then stopped scoring also, but really the entire team forgot how to play soccer. In the off-season, Vermes brought in Johnny Russell, Yohan Croizet, Khiry Shelton, and Felilpe Gutierrez which have all contributed to a much more lethal attack this year. He has depth, he has options, and he has versatility.
That being said, you don’t have to look very hard to find complaints about a lack of a Designated Player striker signing the last couple years. The club promised one and it hasn’t happened yet. Now that the club has been scoring and looks set up nicely for the playoffs, the complaining has faded, especially with Rubio’s form as of late. He scored or assisted in five straight matches and has five goals over that time.
So some will say Kansas City hasn’t replaced Dwyer. But Rubio, Nemeth, and Shelton would disagree.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
CB: We should get our first look at the newest addition to the defense — Andreu Fontas. Ike Opara is out on yellow card accumulation and the team has pretty high hopes for the Spaniard.
Jimmy Medranda has his season cut short with knee surgery so Seth Sinovic will play left back. Christian Lobato and Kharlton Belmar are also out. Khiry Shelton is working his way back to fitness and could make his return.
(4-3-3) Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Andreu Fontas, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez; Gerso Fernandes, Krisztian Nemeth, Yohan Croizet.
Sporting KC 4 - 3 Orlando City.
Thanks again to Cody for taking the time to answer our questions.