Following Saturday’s 4-0 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, D.C. United will resume play in the Walt Disney World Resort Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Fla., tonight at 6 p.m. ET (http://www.dcunited.com/live) against Eastern Conference foe Sporting Kansas City.
The victory over the North American Soccer League champions Rowdies represented the Black-and-Red’s first win of the pre-season (1-1-1). In Bradenton, Fla., United dropped a scrimmage against the Columbus Crew 1-0 and tied Swedish side Malmo FF 1-1. Against Tampa Bay, forward Lionard Pajoy and rookie defender Taylor Kemp netted two goals apiece, with all four goals coming after the interval. Pajoy struck first 10 minutes into the second half, completing the brace only three minutes later. Kemp followed suit, scoring two likeminded goals inside the box later in the half.
“It had to be club soccer in high school,” Kemp said when asked about the last time he scored twice in one game. “I was just thinking ‘If I miss this somehow, I’m never gonna live it down.’”
Falling to the Montreal Impact 2-1 on Saturday, with its lone goal a screamer from midfielder Graham Zusi, Sporting seeks its first win of the tournament against United. One of the most powerful MLS clubs in 2012 – finishing first in the Eastern Conference and boasting four Best XI selections – Kansas City should prove to be a formidable opponent. Although the club lost its playmaker extraordinaire Roger Espinoza to English Premier League (EPL) side Wigan Athletic and is without leading scorer Kei Kamara (currently on loan to EPL team Norwich City), powerful reinforcements have been added. Striker Claudio Bieler, a top three leading scorer in Ecuador’s Serie A in three of the past four seasons, inked a Designated Player deal in December and creative force Benny Feilhaber arrived in Kansas City at the end of 2012 via trade from New England.
“It will definitely be a tough test,” Kemp admitted. “[Sporting Kansas City] lost a couple of key players this off season, but either way, it will be a tough game—one that we’re all looking forward to.”
Last year, Sporting finished in first place – just one spot ahead of the Black-and-Red – in the 2012 Eastern Conference regular-season standings, with both clubs achieving impressive streaks last season. Kansas City opened the 2012 campaign with seven consecutive wins, while D.C. registered a 16-game unbeaten mark at RFK, accruing in the most home points (40) in MLS on the year. The Black-and-Red’s only loss in the nation’s capital came in the home opener on March 10 against none other than Sporting Kansas City. During the playoffs, United fell to the Houston Dynamo in the conference finals after the Dynamo eliminated Kansas City in the semifinal round.
“They were an electric kind of team,” Kemp noted about Kansas City’s play last season. “They counterattack quickly, they keep the ball well and they have a lot of talented guys on the field.”
However, the primary focus for United is still on maintaining its own form and playing style.
“Right now, [the coaches] obviously want the work ethic to be there and have everybody working hard out on the field,” Kemp explained. “But they’ve been emphasizing that we pay attention to the spacing of each other and our movement off the ball and then how we move the ball specifically on the field, which has been a theme all camp.”
With these pre-season themes of improvement and work ethic in mind, the Black-and-Red heads into tonight’s game with some added intensity.
“We came here to win,” Kemp said, “And that’s what we intend to do.”