It appears the biggest thing that has come out of the Gold Cup recess for both Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew is the increased urgency to get into playoff contention ahead of Sunday’s contest at Mapfre Stadium.
Sporting KC (3-7-5) are three points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference as the hangover of their semifinal exit in the CONCACAF Champions League, coupled with a spate of injuries, have plagued them. Sporting have one win in their last 14 matches in all competitions (1-6-7) and were dumped out of the U.S. Open Cup in the fourth round with a 4-1 loss at Minnesota United on June 12.
That heavy defeat prompted an open letter from talisman and defender Matt Besler to the club’s supporters two days later in which he wrote, “We simply can’t allow some of the goals we’re giving up. We also need to be better at finishing our chances when we get them. And we need to be better in the second half of games, specifically closing games out. All these have to be improved upon. If not, (coach) Peter (Vermes) will have to find players who can.”
The good news for Besler and Sporting Kansas City is Vermes’ side will be close to full strength, especially in attack. Krisztian Nemeth and Johnny Russell, who share the team lead with seven goals each in league play, are expected to be back in the first XI after missing the last two league matches on international duty for Hungary and Scotland, respectively.
“We want to change our ways and start winning,” Nemeth said Thursday. “We’re out of the cup but we can still win the league and that needs to be the target now. We know they (the Crew) have (Federico) Higuain not in the squad, but they are dangerous, especially at home.”
Higuain – lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered last month — is a key absence for the Crew (5-2-9), who are two points out of seventh place in the East, but he is one of many impact players absent. Striker Gyarsi Zardes, midfielder Wil Trapp, center back Jonathan Mensah, and keeper Zack Steffen are also unavailable, as Zardes, Trapp, and Steffen are on the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup and Mensah is representing Ghana at the African Cup of Nations.
Like Sporting Kansas City, Columbus has also struggled intensely of late with just four points from its last 10 league matches (1-1-8). The Crew also saw their U.S. Open Cup campaign come to an end during the Gold Cup recess after a 3-2 home loss to reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Tuesday night.
Crew coach Caleb Porter felt aggrieved his side was not awarded a late penalty after David Accam appeared to be fouled inside the 18, capping an all-around frustrating match that included a 49-minute weather delay. But Columbus is trying to quickly move on, knowing full well it needs all three points to begin a push for the postseason.
“We are not happy that we haven’t gotten three points in every home game,” Porter told the Crew’s official website. “It is important that we win the games we have. Can we go unbeaten in the last home games? That needs to be the goal. And we know we are going to win games on the road as well.”
Columbus is 1-3-6 in its last 10 matches versus Sporting, with the teams playing to draws in the last two seasons.
(Matt Besler photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports)