Preview: Crew vs. Sporting KC

Tied on points, SKC and Crew battle for East

LIVESTRONG SPORTING PARK, Kansas City, Kan.
8:30 p.m. ET (KSMO; ONN; watch LIVE online)
September 28, 2011 (WEEK 29; MLS Game 275)

It's another huge game in the Eastern Conference when Sporting Kansas City play host to the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park. The teams enter the game tied for second place in the division, just a point behind leaders Houston Dynamo, with four games left to play. Sporting are coming off a 1-1 draw with fourth-place Philadelphia last Friday, while the Crew saw their winless streak hit five games in a late home loss to the LA Galaxy.

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REFEREE: Hilario Grajeda. SAR (bench): Bill Dittmar; JAR (opposite): Paul Scott; 4th: Chris Penso
MLS Career: 53 games; FC/gm: 24.5; Y/gm: 3.6; R: 11; pens: 8

INJURY REPORT: SPORTING KANSAS CITY - OUT: DF Daneil Cyrus (L foot fracture); MF Konrad Warzycha (R knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Birahim Diop (lower back strain); MF Luke Sassano (R knee sprain) ... COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: DF Ben Sippola (R hamstring strain), MF Tony Tchani (R knee surgery); DOUBTFUL: DF Rich Balchan (L oblique strain); MF Corey Veeder (L adductor strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Eddie Gaven (R lower leg contusion); DF Chad Marshall (L hip flexor strain); PROBABLE: FW Emilio Renteria (concussion); GK Andy Gruenebaum (R thumb fracture); MF Bernardo Anor (L ankle sprain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none
WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: KC: Graham Zusi ... CLB: Kevin Burns, Dejan Rusmir
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: KC: Omar Bravo, Julio Cesar, Aurelien Collin, Birahim Diop, Graham Zusi ... CLB: Emmanuel Ekpo, Tommy Heinemann, William Hesmer, Julius James, Sebastian Miranda, Tony Tchani

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (42 meetings): Sporting 17 wins (2 shootout), 62 goals ... Crew 20 wins (0 shootout), 71 goals ... Ties 5
AT KC (19 meetings): Sporting 9 wins (1 shootout), 30 goals ... Crew 8 wins (0 shootout), 33 goals ... Ties 2

  • In the first meeting this season between the teams, Robbie Rogers scored the game's lone goal to give the Crew a  victory, April 16 at Crew Stadium.
  • Kansas City's victory last July 14 was its first against Columbus since a 3-2 win Sept. 15, 2007, at Arrowhead Stadium. The Crew won five of the six intervening games (with one draw).
  • KC concluded their CommunityAmerica Ballpark history against Columbus with three losses in three games there.
  • Coaches record: Robert Warzycha v KC: P7 W6 L1 T0 ... Peter Vermes vs. CLB: P3 W1 L2 T0

LAST MEETING (MLS)
4/16: CLB 1, KC 0 (Rogers 53)

  • The game's lone goal came eight minutes after the second-half restart. Kevin Burns sent a service into the penalty area where Dilly Duka flicked the pass back to Robbie Rogers on the left. Rogers chested the ball, then slotted a shot past KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
  • Sporting finished the game a man down when defender Julio Cesar was sent off for a second caution in the 72nd minute.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-2-3-1): Jimmy Nielsen - Michael Harrington, Julio Cesar (sent off 72), Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza - Birahim Diop, Davy Arnaud (Graham Zusi 71) - Kei Kamara (Korede Aiyegbusi 87), Milos Stojcev (Shavar Thomas 75), C.J. Sapong - Teal Bunbury.
  • COLUMBUS CREW (4-2-3-1): William Hesmer - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Rich Balchan - Kevin Burns, Dilly Duka - Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo (Dejan Rusmir 89), Robbie Rogers (Jeff Cunningham 77) - Emilio Renteria (Tommy Heinemann 67).

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

Sporting Kansas City returned home and kept their place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, reaching a 1-1 draw with Philadelphia Union on Friday evening at Livestrong Sporting Park. Sporting have 41 points from 30 matches on the season, in a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • Sporting took the lead 11 minutes into the second half. Kei Kamara chipped a delicate cross to the back post for Omar Bravo, who beat a defender to the ball and lashed it past goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
  • But Union drew even just seven minutes later. Michael Farfan was able to keep the ball alone on the endline and laid it back for Sebastien Le Toux, who hammered home the equalizer from the corner of the six-yard box.
  • Sporting manager Peter Vermes made two changes to the team that went down to a 1-0 defeat by Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. Chance Myers and Jeferson came back into the team, in place of Michael Harrington and Aurelien Collin.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-3-2-1): Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Julio Cesar, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic - Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Jeferson (Aurelien Collin 46) - Kei Kamara, Omar Bravo (Soony Saad 89) - Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong 62).

TEAM NEWS

  • While Sporting are unbeaten in their last three games at Livestrong Sporting Park, they've taken just five points from those contests. They have two home games remaining among their final four regular-season matches.
  • "You can call this the playoffs [already]," goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said. "We've got a big game coming up again on Wednesday. We've got to get this game out of our system and look forward to the Columbus game."
  • Omar Bravo has scored three goals in the last five games after going more than a month without hitting the back of the net. He took over the SKC lead with nine goals.
  • He tries to get on the end of things because of runs. He is not typically in the buildup of the game," said Sporting manager Peter Vermes. "He is the guy that gets on the end of stuff because his running off the ball is so good. He got on the end of the goal which is normally what he does."
  • Vermes changed his team's look at halftime, bringing on Aurelien Collin for Jeferson. Collin went into the back four with Julio Cesar moving forward into central midfield.
  • "At that time our triangle was two holding with one in front as him as the playmaker. I just didn't think it was working so I moved Julio into the middle of the midfield as the one and just inverted the triangle," Vermes said. "I thought tactically it solved all of the issues we needed. Julio brings experience and calmness and when he gets the ball it is very easy for us to build out through that central channel."
  • After getting two assists in the opening game of the season, Kei Kamara went nearly six months and 26 league games without one. He now has two in the last three games.
  • "The way our system is, it always puts most teams in a mismatch situation with a guy like him. I think the only team that has a guy that's even remotely close to his size is Seattle with Tyson Wahl when he's playing left back," Vermes said. "Outside of that, with everyone else it's just a physical mismatch.You incorporate that with his movement off the ball now is just fantastic and then the players being able to play him into the channels and in those seams, he becomes a handful."

COLUMBUS CREW

The Columbus Crew had their winless run extended to five games in cruel fashion, suffering a 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Saturday night at Crew Stadium. The Crew have 41 points from 30 games on the season, now in a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • The game's lone goal came three minutes into second-half stoppage time. Landon Donovan took a pass from Sean Franklin and fired a powerful drive that William Hesmer was able to save but not hold, and Chad Barrett was quickest to it to knock the ball into the empty net.
  • Crew head coach Robert Warzycha made three changes to the team that fell 1-0 to Philadelphia Union at PPL Park. Chad Marshall came back into central defense for Eric Gehrig, and Emmanuel Ekpo and Josh Gardner also returned to the team in place of Dejan Rusmir and Tommy Heinemann.
  • COLUMBUS CREW (4-1-4-1): William Hesmer - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Shaun Francis - Danny O'Rourke - Dilly Duka (Cole Grossman 89), Robbie Rogers, Emmanuel Ekpo, Josh Gardner (Emilio Renteria 65) - Andres Mendoza.

TEAM NEWS

  • Following back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Philadelphia and LA, the Crew have fallen out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference for the first time since mid-July - when they left the top spot after their first 1-0 defeat to LA.
  • "I don't know what we were doing," goalkeeper William Hesmer said. "... Why we just can't get the ball out of our corner in the 90th minute, I don't know. We got cute with it a couple of times. ... In our third [of the field] in the 90th minute of a 0-0 game at this point of the season we've got to be going through and winning the ball. Somebody's got to take command and not let that happen."
  • The loss extended the Crew's winless run to five games, in which they've lost four. They haven't scored a goal in 194 minutes.
  • Warzycha set out his club with a five-man midfield, with Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo in attacking central midfield spots behind Andres Mendoza.
  • "I think we played against a very good team and in the first half I think they kept possession very well. The last 15 minutes of the first half I think we figured out how to play. In the second half, when Emilio [Renteria] came in, I think the game came alive," Warzycha said. "We created a couple chances that were difficult for Saunders to save, then we let the ball bounce at the end of the game and it cost us a goal."
  • With the match three-quarters old, Warzycha brought Emilio Renteria in place of left-sided midfielder Josh Gardner, to partner Mendoza.
  • "He didn't have a free role, he was the one attacker but he still created chances. Obviously, he's not fit for 90 minutes, but for the 30 minutes he was on the field I think he gave us a lot," Warzycha said.