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What we know and what we don't: Sporting Kansas City

In which we have ourselves a look at this weekend's match against last year's MLS Cup winners.

Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday, the New York Red Bulls went into RFK stadium in need of some points.  They left with none.   The Red Bulls started out promisingly enough, but couldn't seem to get the ball past DC United keeper, Bill Hamid.  Their failure to capitalize on their chances came back to bite them in the second half.  DC scored twice and New York went home the losers...again.    This Saturday, the Red Bulls have the chance to lick their wounds and bounce back at home in Red Bull Arena where they'll host last years league champs, Sporting Kansas City.

Here's what we know:

  • Three points are a must.
There have been a slew of "must win" games over the course of the 2014 season.  Some of them have been won and some haven't, yet the Red Bulls seemed to get enough help from the rest of the Eastern Conference to stay just above that thin red line separating playoff contenders from the teams going home early.   After last weeks loss and the Philadelphia Union's win over Toronto FC, New York has dropped below that line and is now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.   This match, at home, is about as "must win" as it gets.   If the Red Bulls want any shot at making the playoffs and keeping their MLS Cup hopes alive, they need to start winning their home games.

  • New York is missing some parts.
Due to some international call ups, the Red Bulls are going into Saturday's game missing a few key players.   Designated Player, Tim Cahill, is off with the Australian National Team while rookie revelation, Ambroise Oyongo, is away with Cameroon.    New York would also be missing Costa Rican left back Roy Miller, but for some crafty wheeling and dealing by Andy Roxburgh.  Normally, you'd assume losing your DP midfielder for such an important match would be a cause for panic, but Cahill's absence may not be the case.   2014 has not been his year insofar as Major League Soccer is concerned.  With only one goal on the year, Cahill has been largely ineffective.  Losing him for this match will force another option, most likely Peguy Luyindula, into the midfield, which brings a whole lot more creativity to the Red Bulls' attack.  Creativity that has been much needed.

  • The Good Ship SKC has sprung a leak.
For the better part of the last two to three years, the names Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin were enough to make any striker in the league feel anxious.  The two defenders were the rocks of Kansas City's back line, thought to be one of, if not the best in MLS.   Recently, those rocks have started to erode.   SKC has allowed twelve goals in their last five league matches.   Nine of those goals have come in their last three.  That means they have allowed three goals in each of their last three matches.  That is not good.   If their defensive woes continue, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry should be able to carve them up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Here's what we don't know:

  • Who will we see on the pitch?
With Cahill and Oyongo out of the conversation, who will we see take their spots in midfield?   Mike Petke is in love with Eric Alexander, who has played decently well when slotted into the left side, so it won't surprise anyone if that's who we see on Saturday.  The bigger question is in the center midfield.   Who is going to take Tim Cahill's spot?  Sure, Luyindula seems like the obvious choice, but when has Petke ever gone with the obvious?  It's entirely possible that Thierry Henry moves slightly down the pitch while new addition, Saer Sene fills the vacant forward role next to BWP.   Also entirely possible, Petke throws Alexander into the middle of the pitch and decides to let Sene have a go on the left.  Not only is the midfield a question mark, but so is the back line.   Ibrahim Sekagya did not have his best game against DC last week.  In fact, he was pretty bad.  Does he get another chance this Saturday?   Does newly acquired center back, Damien Perrinelle get his first shot at MLS action?  Does Armando sneak back on the field?   Whoever it is will have their hands full.  SKC has a red hot, English striker of their own in Dom Dwyer, who is hot on the heels of BWP in the race for the Golden Boot.