Ahead of Toronto FC's game on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, I got in touch with Justin Mayhugh of SB Nation's SKC blog Sporting The Daily, oops, never mind, they're still The Daily Wiz, where you can of course go to get the opposing view of this game, as well as my answers to his questions right here. After the jump, Justin talks about Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, and lets us know what's changed since our last meeting, as well as the 'Who hates Canada more, Teal or Jacob?" question. So Kansas City, How you doin'?
Waking The Red: Fancy newish stadium, Open Cup winners, top of the Eastern conference, life's looking pretty good right now. What's been the key to success and how far can this team go? Do you see them as genuine MLS cup contenders?
The Daily Wiz: I think the biggest key this season has been just how solid Sporting's defense has been in 2012. They're currently tied with the Columbus Crew for fewest goals allowed in MLS (22). It's safe to say that offensively, the team has been a little bit disappointing, given the collection of forwards the team has, so the back line has been a life saver in a number of matches this year. Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin have a great working relationship in the middle of Kansas City's defense, but even when Collin missed the US Open Cup Final against Seattle, Lawrence Olum stepped up big for Sporting, and gave a valiant effort.
Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic have been solid at the full back positions for Sporting. There have been times during the course of the season where Sinovic has missed time due to injuries, and Myers missed last weekend's match against DC United, still Sporting has found a way to keep it together at the back. Michael Harrington can play either full back position, and he has done a respectable job filling in for both Chance and Seth at various times. Even the newly acquired Neven Markovic had a nice debut showing in place of Sinovic in the 2-1 win over United last Saturday. Defense has definitely been the key to Kansas City's success thus far.
In regards to how far I think Sporting can go; I think it really just depends on the goal scorers. There's been a real problem in regards to finishing. I know Kansas City was trying to bring in the Spanish striker, Javi Guerra from Real Valladolid but that deal fell through for one reason or another, so Sporting management is obviously aware of the lack of a true goal-scorer as being the club's main weakness. If Teal Bunbury can truly heat up (he did score a goal against DC on Saturday), he may just be the answer, but I'm honestly not counting on it. Teal is a hit-or-miss player. If Kansas City can find that goal scorer, whether it's Teal, or CJ Sapong, or Kei Kamara (8 goals on 91 shots..ouch), then I think they have a legitimate shot to make a run at the MLS Cup. If not, well, their defense had better be more than superb through the playoffs.
WTR: Matt Besler and Graham Zusi both made it into the recent US squad (but not Teal Bunbury, that's a real shame). Is that well deserved? How important have those two been for SKC this year?
TDW: I definitely feel like both Graham and Matt deserve a look on the US squad. Graham had a great season last year, and although I don't think he's had quite as good of a year as he did in 2011, he's still a dynamic player, a complete engine in the midfield, and a player that is extremely dangerous delivering on set pieces (He's currently tired with Brad Davis and Dwayne De Rosario for second in assists in MLS with 10).
But even more so than Zusi, I feel that Besler deserves a chance to show what he can do in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad. It seems like Matt flies under the radar with a lot of the media, and the soccer experts. Besler's center back partner, Aurelien Collin, was voted into the first XI for the MLS All Star game, and while I do think Aurelien has had a very good year, for me, Besler is the MVP of the back line. He's a calming presence for Kansas City, and he's an immensely intelligent player as well. He's tactically savvy,and rarely caught out of position. I would have liked to see Matt get some playing time in the US/Mexico friendly Wednesday night, but I can't really complain given the result. It's not every day the USMNT goes into the Azteca and come away with a win, even if it was just a friendly.
WTR: Kansas had little problem with TFC earlier this season, what changes, improvements or otherwise have been made to the squad and starting lineup since then?
TDW: The lineup Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes has been rolling out as of late is quite a bit different than the one he did when Kansas City played Toronto FC in June. Since that match, Kansas City has seen a rash of injuries within the squad. Jacob Peterson, Matt Beslser, Julio Cesar, Seth Sinovic, Bobby Convey and CJ Sapong have all missed time with injuries at various times since then, so Vermes has had to do a lot of shuffling with his lineups.
Midfielder Paulo Nagamura has really come on as of late, putting in suberb shifts the last two matches, which has meant Julio Cesar has been used more as a sub in recent matches. Vermes has opted to go with a slightly more defensive lineup in the midfield both in the US Open Cup Final, and against DC United, moving Graham Zusi up to the right wing, with Kei Kamara playing on the left flank, and Teal Bunbury starting at center forward. In the USOC Final, Vermes opted to go with a midfield trio of Nagamura, Roger Espinoza, and Julio Cesar. Against DC, the midfield consisted of Nagamura, Espinoza, and Michael Thomas. Although Roger likes to push up and attack at times, players like Nagamura, Cesar, and Thomas are more defensive minded players.
The back line should consist of the usual four; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic, although I believe when Toronto and Kansas City last met, Lawrence Olum was playing in place of Besler, who was out with an injury.
At center forward, I imagine Teal will get the start. He's put in some nice shifts as of late. Vermes usually rides the hot hand in regards to the striker position. To my knowledge, both Convey and Peterson still aren't ready to come back from their injuries, so I think Vermes will continue to use Zusi and Kamara on the wings in KC's 4-3-3 formation, where he'll have them both switch sides at various times during the match.
WTR: Bonus question. Who hates Canada more, Jacob Peterson or Teal Bunbury?
TDW: Hmmm. I'm going to say Teal.. hands down, Teal.
Many thanks Justin, best of luck for the rest of the season.