Q1. What tactics are Sporting KC using right now and how might the Red Bulls counteract them to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final?
Cody Bradley, The Blue Testament: In the comfort of Children's Mercy Park, Sporting KC will be looking to control the ball and dictate the pace of the game. They will demand possession and the very moment upon losing it, will do everything to win it back. Which leads to a lot of professional fouls. Peter Vermes wants to make sure the Red Bulls are unable to build any sort of rhythm or momentum.
Yes, they are incredibly tough to beat (at home or away) but SKC also have trouble putting away a match. 11 draws this year and they needed extra time for both the Quarterfinal & Semifinal matches to advance in this tournament. If NYRB can stay organized and keep a defensive mindset they will likely have a shot at the end. Sporting will leave themselves exposed and will give a couple opportunities to strike on the counter, the question is if the visitors can capitalize on those precious moments. Tim Melia has bailed out SKC more times than anyone can even count anymore.
Q2. Who has taken the place of Dom Dwyer since the big trade? And what does Dwyer's replacement do differently from the Orlando City striker?
Cody B.: Diego Rubio has been the natural replacement to Dwyer, although Latif Blessing has seen plenty of time at the head of the attack as well. I actually think Rubio's style is more suited to the way SKC have slightly evolved over the past couple years. He has a much better first touch and is more comfortable with the ball at his feet. Where Dom was used as backboard in the build up to bounce off a pass, or just as that one last final touch for a goal; Rubio is more able to get involved in the build up and help keep possession.
And to be perfectly honest, I'll say out loud that I think Rubio is more lethal. He is more calm in front of goal. Dwyer is able to create a goal out of nothing by being a pest and hustling, but he missed an absolutely absurd number of sitters. I truly believe Rubio will just have a better conversion rate when given big chances.
Q3. Last year's Sporting KC defense was good, but not this good - allowing less than a goal per game this season. What changed between last year and this year to give the team a near-historic defense?
Cody B.: It has been a combination of several things, of course. The bottom line is that they have been so successful this season because the back line is so comfortable with each other. Those four have played together for years now - Besler and Sinovic were literally youth club teammates in KC. There is an understanding between them that is just amazing.
Seemingly, not much has changed from last year. The back four and the keeper were all here last year. But things are different. Zusi moved to right-back this year. Ike Opara has finally stayed healthy for the most part. Veteran Seth Sinovic, who had fallen down the depth chart last year, earned his regular spot on Vermes' field once again. Tim Melia has - somehow - stepped up to another level. Then the cherry on top to all these returning players has been Ilie Sanchez. Ilie has locked down the holding midfield spot, one of the most important positions in the system.
A Peter Vermes team will always be organized defensively, but everything has come together perfectly this year and it has been fun to watch so far.