Crew ready for big stage as it heads to Kansas City for Sunday meeting with Sporting

Sporting KC vs. Crew - 4:00 p.m. ET / NBC Sports Network

Gregg Berhalter

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USA Today Sports Images

All eyes will be drawn to Sporting Park on Sunday (4:00 p.m. ET / NBCSN) when the first-place Crew visits second-place and defending MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City with just a point separating the two sides at the top of the Eastern Conference table. 

The matchup provides a stiff test for a Black & Gold side looking to prove it’s the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference. 

"It's a great opportunity for our team to play the best team in MLS last year, the champions and a very good team," Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said. "I think this year they're really strong again. It's a great challenge for us. We're excited to go in and hopefully play a good game."

The Black & Gold are hungry for points following the three consecutive 1-1 draws with San Jose, D.C. and New York. However, a  4-1 defeat in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic Final in March will be fresh in the mind of Sporting's players as they look to knock off the East-leading Crew. 

"It's going to be real exciting," said midfielder Justin Meram. "Last time we played them was at Disney, obviously we got the better of the result. They're going to come out firing, but we've got to get the win. Three times in a row, we've drawn. We've got to get some points."

Berhalter and his players expect an open match on Sunday as they prepare for Sporting's possession-based 4-3-3 formation. 

"[Sporting has] a certain way to play, a specific way to play," Berhalter said. "I wouldn't exactly say it's like ours, but it's very offense-oriented. It's very physical. It's a little bit more direct and they're also very good at set pieces. It's a very strong team, very good players in the middle. They have National Team-quality players. It's going to be a tough game."

In what is expected to be a back-and-forth match, there is likely no room for error between the top two sides in the East. Making the most of its attacking opportunities is set to be key for the Crew on the road.

"There's going to be room to play out there, for sure," Meram explained. "We've just got to be smart with the ball, make good runs off the ball. We'll create chances and they will too, playing at home. It's a question of when they have their 10 minutes, are we going to weather the storm? When we get our moment, are we going to capitalize?

"That's what it comes down to."