Folks, it’s time to get back on track.
After a disappointing loss to NYCFC in the Bronx last Saturday, the Fire found themselves in some unfamiliar territory: they had just lost their first MLS game in nearly three months. An 11-game unbeaten run shot the Men in Red to the top of the league, and there seemed to be no signs of slowing down.
Alas, there was sure to be a dip in form following a two week break in fixtures, and NYCFC took advantage; now the Sky Blues sit just one point behind the second place Fire, and things in the East are heating up.
This weekend’s trip to Kansas City may not be a must-win, but two losses in a row would do away with one of the Fire’s most valuable assets this season so far: positive momentum. A draw would be bearable to an extent, but three points would put us right back where we need to be in terms of points, and confidence.
Let’s see where both teams are at heading into Saturday.
Thankfully the return of our favorite red-head has finally come, as Dax McCarty rejoins the squad with a Gold Cup winner’s medal under his belt. The confidence of being a key member of the United States team that lifted that cup this past Wednesday will be a massive addition to the team, and Pauno will be reeling to throw him right back into the mix with Basti and Michael de Leeuw in the middle of the park. Put that together with the likely addition of David Accam back into the starting lineup up top, and things will be looking nice.
The problem with last weekend’s performance turned out to be a lack of defensive focus for a short four minute spell, which resulted in two NYCFC goals in quick succession just after the break. Over the span of 90 minutes, those moments can happen. The key to getting through them, however, is maintaining composure as a unit and effectively possessing the ball to regain your place in the game before things get out of control. Without Dax’s composure in the midfield, however, this proved to be difficult. If he can jump right back into his role from the get go, look for the Fire to settle quicker, and dictate the tempo of the game to their advantage.
Sporting KC are currently winless in their last three MLS games, and sit second in the West behind FC Dallas. By their standards, they are having themselves a very average season; from a neutral perspective, however, they are far from that. A talented roster including the likes of USMNT stars Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Benny Felihaber has helped them play great soccer at times throughout the season, but they have had a difficult time putting together multiple winning performances in a row. Although they have been slowly improving over recent weeks, it doesn’t seem like things have clicked the way SKC may have hoped.
To add insult to injury, Dwyer, who recently received his first call-up to the USMNT after officially gaining his American citizenship, was traded to Orlando City on Tuesday for $1.6 million in allocation money. The deal sent shockwaves throughout the league, and is sure to have an immediate effect on SKC’s on-field performances, even if it was made in hopes of developing future success for the club.
On the other hand, just like the Fire, SKC will be boosted by the return of Zusi and Besler from Gold Cup success, which will certainly bring a sense of stability back to the team. At this point, after three consecutive 1-1 draws in their last three games, a positive result is definitely not out of the question for them this weekend, especially on home soil. If they can adjust quickly to life without their main man up top, look for them to be a serious threat in the final two thirds of the field.
With both teams seeking their first win post-Gold Cup break, this match will certainly be tightly contested. SKC are currently unbeaten in their last 12 games at Children’s Mercy Park, with their last home loss dating all the way back to February.
The Fire, as we know, haven’t necessarily been spectacular on the road this year. However, losing Dwyer will make life much more difficult for SKC’s offense, and take a lot of pressure off Jonothan Kappelhof and the rest of the back line, which will help them focus on creating meaningful possession moving forward out of the back. If they can do so, I can see Nikolic and the boys up top having a field day running at the SKC defense. With that in mind, I’m predicting a Fire win to put us back on track towards league/world domination.
If you’d like anymore insight on this game prior to kickoff, or anything happening in world soccer for that matter, feel free to shoot me a message on twitter @kieran_ruane.
Until next time, peace.