By Nate Bukaty
Sporting Kansas City look to continue their push back up the Western Conference standings, as they visit the Montreal Impact on Saturday.
Kickoff: 6:30 pm
Radio: Sports Radio 810 WHB
Watch: SKCTV, 38 The Spot
With a 2-0 victory over FC Dallas last weekend, Sporting moved from 8th place in the Western Conference into a three-way tie for 5th place. Combined with their win in the US Open Cup at Minnesota United FC, and their draw at Los Angeles, Sporting are now unbeaten in their last three matches.
Now they head to the Great White North, where Sporting have enjoyed an unparalleled amount of success. The club’s .619 winning percentage in Canada is best all-time among MLS clubs. SKC have particularly enjoyed their matches against Montreal of late, having won four straight in this series by a combined score line of 11-2. But this might be the best Impact side the visitors from Kansas City will have faced. Here are three keys for Sporting to bring home three points from Montreal:
1) Slay the Three-Headed Monster: With Didier Drogba, Ignacio Piatti, and Dominic Oduro, The Impact boast one of the most potent attacking trios in MLS. Of the Impact’s 22 goals in 2016, 17 have come from these three men. Silence them, and you effectively silence the Montreal offense. Of course, this is easier said than done. Drogba has brought his world class scoring ability (4th all time leading scorer at Chelsea) to MLS without missing a beat. He’s scored 16 goals in 20 games with Montreal since joining the side last August. Meanwhile “Nacho” Piatti has also proven to be worth his Designated Player contract, as he ranks third in MLS this season with 8 goals. And MLS veteran Dominic Oduro brings speed that is hard to match. Oduro has contributed 4 goals and 5 assists already this season. The Sporting KC defenders must be physical and organized in order to deal with the pace, skill, and power of these three attackers.
2) Win the Midfield Battle: This might seem like an obvious key for any game, but it is particularly the case for Sporting in this matchup. While the Impact have some big names in the front, and some consistent veterans in the back, it’s the middle where Montreal have struggled. In fact, the Impact have won just one match out of their last eight. During that stretch, the common theme for Montreal has been a lack of midfield presence. With Benny Fielhaber, Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar, Sporting should have the decided advantage in the middle of the park. When they are operating to their fullest ability, Sporting’s midfielders can control the flow of a game, thwart counterattacks quickly, and win the ball back in dangerous areas. They must use this advantage to dictate the terms of this match.
3) Prove Depth in the Back: Both sides of this match will be missing some key components in the hearts of their defenses. The Impact will be without 2015 MLS Defender of the year, Laurent Ciman, who is off at Euros with Belgium. Meanwhile, Sporting KC are without the man who won the same award in 2012, Matt Besler. The Sporting KC Captain, along with Graham Zusi, will be with the US Men’s National Team, playing in the third place game of Copa America at roughly the same time that Sporting are taking on the Impact. Sporting will also be without the services of central defender Nuno Cuelho, who is listed as “out” once again, with a thigh strain. After starting each of SKC’s first 14 games, Cuelho will now miss his fourth straight match with this injury. Despite these absences, Sporting’s defense has proven its depth, having allowed a total of just three shots on goal over the last three games. That’s the lowest total of any MLS team over a three game stretch this season. It’ll take another solid defensive performance for Sporting KC to return from Montreal with a result.
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