1. Kansas City has allowed just twenty-one goals so far this season. Is this the work of the usual suspects or are there other unsung heroes to whom you attribute this stingy defense?
The back four that have been solid the past few years has been the same solid group that they have always been. This year, Uri Rosell has really stepped up in the midfield to become a key part of Sporting's defense. He is able to help control possession in the midfield, which in turn keeps pressure off the back line. He's a bit similar to Roger Espinoza last year in the fact that he can run all over the pitch, providing offensive and defensive help all game long. With the absence of Espinoza's tenacity in the midfield, it's been nice to have Rosell step up and emulate some of his production.
2. Kei Kamara returned to the SKC starting lineup in June and scored a few key goals, but he has been relatively quiet since then in terms of the score sheet. Talk a little about his transition back to the team from Norwich City. Does a lack of goals over the past few games reflect a dip in his play?
I think that Kamara has done the job he has done in past years. He is providing good service on the wing while also providing some scoring himself. Where Kamara was a main point of scoring last year, this year's offensive directive is different. Instead of having CJ Sapong or Teal Bunbury, Kamara has a much better finisher in Claudio Bieler to get the ball to. This way, the offense focuses on getting the top three chances at goals with an emphasis on Bieler, whereas last year there wasn't an emphasis on anyone. So i don't see a dip in his play, just a different offensive style by the team.
3. With Sporting Kansas City starting CONCACAF Champions League play in August, has Peter Vermes given any indication how he'll approach the tournament in terms of minutes and lineup choices? Do you think SKC has the roster depth to fully compete in the tournament without risking dropping points from MLS league play?
I believe Sporting has the depth to do really well in both competitions. The reserve defenders Lawrence Olum and Ike Opara both had to start against Montreal and played really really well against one of the better attacking teams in the league. Mikey Lopez will be the feature of the midfield while also being joined by Peterson Joseph and possibly Paulo Nagamura. The front can feature Peterson Joseph, Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong. Essentially, Vermes can put out a starting XI that can hold their own in MLS play while not interfering too much on the league starters. I think Robb Heinemann and Peter Vermes have done a very good job of building this team to be able to throw out a reserve heavy starting XI and still have a decent squad.
Now onto a few questions for us about the Red Bulls...
1) How will the absence of Tim Cahill affect this match and the rest of RBNY's season going forward?
After a relatively slow start with the team since joining mid-2012, Tim Cahill has definitely earned the love and respect of New York fans with his aggressive play and goal scoring (six goals since April 27). Cahill's absence will mostly be felt on the offensive end and particularly on set pieces. Fortunately, his MCL tear will only keep him out another three or four weeks, and with Australia already qualified for World Cup 2014, his call-up obligations should be minimized down the stretch of the MLS season. Defensively, Cahill's midfield partner Dax McCarty has shown the past two seasons that he is one of the league's best playing in front of the back line and providing cover when needed.
2) The last time these two teams met, Sporting KC pulled off a 1-0 win. What's different about the Red Bulls this time around and do you see a different result this time?
Two things really stand out in my mind. The first is that new head coach Mike Petke started the season trying to impose a certain style and formation on the team that looked like a 4-2-3-1. It didn't play to many of the starting eleven's strengths and was soon replaced by a more practical and functional 4-4-2. Second, Juninho, famous to Kansas City fans for his stoppage time antics instead of his alleged set piece mastery, terminated his contract with the team and returned to Brazil. While New York is riding a bit of momentum despite the Cahill injury, I'd peg this one for another 1-0 result going KC's way.
3) How does the likely absence of Graham Zusi affect RBNY's game plan?
Zusi has risen from a promising yet little known draft pick to an elite MLS player. His possible absence undoubtedly helps to offset New York missing Tim Cahill from their midfield but it will still be an uphill battle. Without Zusi, the Red Bulls can be a little more offensive minded and worry less about their tendency toward mediocre wing play up and down the field. Getting forward and putting a little bit of pressure on Kansas City's back line and blonde goalkeeping bombshell Jimmy Nielsen will be critical if the visitors want to have any hope of finding the back of the net.