Waking The Red: No question... the greatest team in MLS. Really? Really? Is Robb Heineman always that bombastic? Do SKC supporters in general agree with him on this?
The Blue Testament: That's our Robb. He's one of the biggest fans of the team, he just happens to sign all of the players as well. With our team biases, I would say that Sporting Kansas City fans in general agree with him on it just because they're supporters, of course they're going to agree with him. Looking back on the past few years, Sporting KC has won the US Open Cup, MLS Cup, gotten to two CONCACAF Champions league, made the playoffs three years in a row, sent two players to the World Cup and then retained them during the transfer window and finished runners up in the Supporters Shield in 2012 and 2013. Not to mention 46 straight MLS sellouts. I don't know if that is necessarily enough to fully vindicate Heineman's statements, but it definitely supports it.
WTR: Besler and Zusi, nice piece of business. Which of the two is the most important for the team, now and in the future?
TBT: Tough question, but I'm going to have to go with Besler. Zusi is a great face in this franchise but Besler's backstory really brings it home for him, literally. He grew up in the Kansas City area and was drafted by the team. He's worked his way up to the captaincy and has now decided to stay in his hometown for the foreseeable future. He has a goal of being the longest serving captain in franchise history and also said he wants to set the franchise record for most appearances. He is here for the future and that's just extracurricular achievements. He's the anchor to the MLS' best statistical defense this year and has anchored the strong defense of the past few years. This isn't meant to undermine Zusi's achievements, given that Zusi is one of the most important cogs in Sporting KC's offense, but all of the accomplishments listed in the first answer have been on the backs of the defense, which is ran by Besler.
WTR: Last time we played, SKC were kind of reeling with injuries and absences, now everyone's back from the World Cup and the injuries have eased up a bit, and on an unbeaten streak. Are they now set up for a strong second half and deep run in the playoffs? Are Seattle catchable for the Supporter's Shield?
TBT: I would say they are. The offense has added a couple of new elements with Toni Dovale and the reemergence of Soony Saad. This allows more flexibility with Graham Zusi where they can either put him on the wing, or they can push him back to the midfield and let him and Feilhaber work creatively. Another new signing, Jorge Claros, seems to fit in perfectly with Peter Vermes system and will add another good defensive bit in the midfield to protect the back line. The defense is back at full strength, sans Chance Myers who is out for the year with a torn Achilles. As long as Sporting KC don't have any more injuries, they should be set to have a successful second half. Peter Vermes called the Galaxy the best team they had played so far and they were able to beat the Galaxy 2-1. The offense is clicking and the defense is solid as usual. They're going to be a tough team to beat in the second half.
Gruenebaum; Juliao, Collin, Besler, Sinovic; Claros, Feilhaber, Zusi; Dovale, Dwyer, Saad.
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TBT: Toronto recently traded for Houston's Warren Creavalle. What does he bring to the club and how likely is it we see him against Sporting Kansas City?
WTR: He brings more than the top spot in the allocation rankings would have done otherwise, so not a bad bit of business really (depends on how much allocation cash we sent to Houston I suppose). I'd be very surprised to see him play against Sporting as he just had his first training session on Friday, but there's a good chance that he'll be on the bench. More than likely that's what he'll provide for TFC, bench depth, as he can cover a few different positions, and should be an upgrade on Jeremy Hall and Bradley Orr for that 'versatile defensive player who can cover a few positions in case of emergency' role. Hopefully he'll be able to provide more than that, but for now Collen Warner has earned first dibs on the defensive midfielder spot that would be Creavalle's main option. He'll be good competition for Warner there, and if TFC decide to try a 4-3-3 again with 2 DM's and Michael Bradley in the AM spot, then Creavalle is the obvious guy to fit into that 2nd DM role. It's another minor upgrade to the squad as GM Tim Bezbatchenko continues the hard unsexy work of improving the depth behind the star players.
TBT: This match with Sporting KC is the first of a "three matches in eight days" stretch. Will Nelsen throw forward a full strength lineup for this match or do you expect some squad rotation?
WTR: TFC have been playing 2 games every week pretty much since the end of June (good job we threw in a midweek friendly against Spurs, that helped) so there's a chance of that, but the above mentioned squad depth means that in some positions there really isn't much of a choice, especially with regular starters Steven Caldwell and Mark Bloom missing from the defence due to injuries. Given the current standings, if TFC are seriously hunting top spot in the East, I'd expect to see close to a first choice team both here and midweek against DC, and if we end up having to rest players against Montreal then so be it. Doing otherwise might be a tacit admission that 3rd place would be seen as just fine. The vast majority of the first teamers either didn't play or put in merely a lazy 1st half against Tottenham so should be ready, though Jermain Defoe will get some forced rest via a suspension for yellow card accumulation, which brings us nicely to question 3.
TBT: With Jermain Defoe suspended, who will step up for Toronto in the attack and how will this affect formations?
WTR: Defoe's out, not to worry, we've still got a DP striker to knock in the goals. Gilberto! Up until recently that statement would have elicited nothing but groans from TFC fans as it's been a rough first few months for Gilberto, 0 goals before the World Cup break leading to the harsh but fun nickname of Ol' Gil (after the Simpsons character). He does a lot of good things, and the vast majority like him and want him to do well, so a lot of hope has been invested in the 'once he scores one, he'll be fine' line of thinking, and it may well be right, as he has goals in his last 2 starts. They did come a few weeks apart due to a hip flexor injury and a couple of sub appearances where he did miss a few golden chances, but the goal he scored in Houston last week was a very nice finish, and this will be the first proper chance to test out that confidence and momentum theory.
As for formation, since Michael Bradley's return, Nelsen's played around with a few options trying to figure out how to get the best out of the team around him (fun fact, TFC with Bradley hasn't won an MLS game since April 5th, we've won 4 without him during that time). With Defoe out, it'll more than likely be a straight forward 4-4-2, which we got a preview of last week against Houston when Defoe was rested for the first hour. Gilberto was joined by Luke Moore up front, with Dominic Oduro and Jonathan Osorio on the wings. I'd guess it'll be the same 4, though Jackson is now back from injury and might get one of the wing spots (probably the left instead of Osorio) as he's better at the whole tracking back and helping the full backs thing. During that hour, they played very well when attacking, there was good possession, the forwards dropping back to pick up the ball, helping to keep possession, and acting as a fulcrum to help Bradley or the wingers get forward. After Gilberto was replaced by Defoe, then all that stopped and it became all about long balls at Defoe, which really didn't work at all (fatigue from the schedule and the heat is a valid reason as to why that might have happened as well). I'm genuinely curious to see if that improved play without Defoe can continue against a team that's much better at defending than Houston is.
4-4-2, from right to left. Joe Bendik; Nick Hagglund, Bradley Orr, Doneil Henry, Justin Morrow; Dominic Oduro, Collen Warner, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio; Gilberto, Luke Moore.
Thanks to Ben, and be sure to check out the Blue Testament for the SKC view of this game.