Looking to solve their defensive woes and end a five-match winless streak, Sporting KC hope the answers are in the nation’s capital as they face D.C. United at Audi Field on Sunday.
Sporting (2-4-3) have only one clean sheet this season, a 2-0 victory over Philadelphia in their second game of the season. After yielding only five goals in their first five matches, they have been picked apart for 13 in the last four and were overrun at home 3-0 by reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United last Sunday, dropping to 0-2-3 in their last five contests.
Some of those struggles can be attributed to coach Peter Vermes needing to cobble together lineups. Sporting KC has been hit with a spate of injuries, and 16-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio is also absent while representing the U.S. at the U-17 CONCACAF Championship in Florida. Sporting were without eight regulars last Sunday, and the undermanned side could not hold out against a Five Stripes squad just hitting its rhythm.
“The problem now is that we’ve got so many guys out,” Vermes said post-match. “We have got to keep working. I don’t have another solution. It’s nothing we can change. It’s not like we can go, ‘You know what, these guys didn’t work’ so we’re changing to these other guys. We just don’t have the bodies.”
Some of those missing bodies could be available for this match, most notably center back Matt Besler and fullback Graham Zusi. Besler has been sidelined three matches with a hamstring injury, and Zusi sat out last Sunday with an oblique injury. Though not injured, No. 1 keeper Tim Melia may miss this match after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child Thursday.
One familiar face, though, is back as SKC acquired veteran playmaker Benny Feilhaber from the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday. Feilhaber, who helped Sporting win the 2013 MLS Cup and pair of U.S. Open Cup titles, had 33 goals and 56 assists in his first stint with the club from 2013-17.
As Sporting seek answers defensively, D.C. United (6-2-3) is looking for consistency. United trail Philadelphia on goal difference for the Eastern Conference lead but have alternated wins and losses in their last five matches. They are looking to build on a 3-1 victory over Columbus on May 4 in which Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney scored first-half goals before Paul Arriola added a third just after the hour.
While Acosta and Rooney are the focal points of D.C.’s offense – the pair have accounted for nine of the team’s 16 goals – the decision by coach Ben Olsen to return Arriola into a wider position has helped the duo find more space thanks to Arriola’s pace on the wing.
“I think it was obviously better and I think bringing Paul into that position and also at Columbus away, helps both offensively and defensively,” Rooney noted. “And I think some of the football around the box and some of the chances we created were some of the best we’ve been at creating chances this weekend.”
Sporting won the lone meeting last year 1-0 on Felipe Gutierrez’s fourth-minute goal. Nine of the previous 13 matches between the sides have had one or no goals, and the all-time series is level through 55 contests (21-21-13).
(Benny Feilhaber tifo photo courtesy Sporting KC official Twitter account)
(Paul Arriola photo courtesy D.C. United official Twitter account)