Guest columnist Drew Epperley is the founder and editor of WVHooligan.com. His blog covers everything MLS and U.S. Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @WVHooligan.
Some coaches will tell you that the true test of strength with a club is how they handle adversity on the road. In the case for Schellas Hyndman, he’ll know a ton about his club after Sunday’s contest against Sporting Kansas City.
The supporters in the Cauldron call LIVESTRONG Sporting Park the “Blue Hell”, a small intimidating stadium on the outskirts of Kansas City. FC Dallas picked up a win in last year’s trip but an expedition north early this season may not be as kind.
Sporting Kansas City is off to a solid start – winning their opening two games – and out scoring their opponents 4-0.
Fast up front
Sporting may have one of the fastest group of strikers in all of Major League Soccer. Second-year striker C.J. Sapong is off to a strong start after his MLS Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011. The 23-year old has already put to rest the talk of a sophomore slump as he’s scored two goals so far this season, including a game-winner at D.C. United.
In the attack with Sapong will be Kei Kamara, Bobby Convey and Graham Zusi.
Kamara’s pace and skill work hand-in-hand with Sapong. The two have an unique connection with one another that is translating into plenty of entertaining moments, such as last weeks’ goal celebration against the New England Revolution.
Convey joined Sporting in the offseason after a trade from the San Jose Earthquakes. The two-time MLS All-Star is now pushed more into an attacking role under head coach Peter Vermes after playing in more of a defensive role with San Jose.
Zusi will sit in the middle between Kamara and Convey. Dallas fans will recall how dangerous Zusi is from long range and so far this season he already has a goal to his name. Expect him to be a key part of Sporting’s midfield on Sunday. Zusi’s distribution in the midfield usually determines what Kamara and Sapong are able to do.
Physical in defense
Vermes has several underrated defenders on his club. He likes to sit two across in the midfield above the four-man back line. Expect Honduran Roger Espinoza to be paired with Brazilian Julio Ceasar.
The two play a physical in-your-face style of defending in the midfield. However, with that physical play can lead to foul trouble by the two. In 2011, the two had three yellow cards apiece and combine to commit 74 fouls.
The back four for Sporting are slowly getting the respect around the league. Sporting’s center back pairing is lead by Frenchman Aurelien Collins and Matt Besler. The duo are quick to lock down opponents and have shown a good ability to close off passing lanes very well.
Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic are the two fullbacks. Myers, a former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick has come into his own in the last two seasons at left back. One thing Dallas will want to do is to force Myers and Sinovic into mistakes and take them on at pace. When Dallas was successful against Sporting last season, it was due to play on the flanks with pace.
Behind the defense, in goal, will be Danish keeper Jimmy Nielsen. The 34-year old has 19 shutouts to his name in MLS since joining Kansas City back in 2010.
Keys to the game
Vermes likes to use a form of a 4-3-3 formation that ends up being more like a 4-2-3-1. Because the formation is attacking oriented, the team can get caught on the break by a quick team.
Another way of exposing this formation is to stretch them out. Hyndman will want to make sure to use his wing play as much as possible in this game as there will be some gaps on the outside to get in and around this Sporting midfield.
One thing that Sporting had to deal with a lot last season was giving up leads late due to youth and inexperience. Expect a little better mentality out of this club this season as they are working to prove to the league that they are the class of the Eastern Conference and are a true contender for a MLS Cup this season.