Coming off its first bye week of the 2013 season, D.C. United (1-2-1) travels to the “Blue Hell” of Sporting Park to face Eastern Conference foe Sporting Kansas City (2-1-2) at 8:30 p.m. ET tonight (MLS Direct Kick Package / MLS Live). Sporting and United finished one and two, respectively, in the East last season and have split 45 all-time match-ups (18-18-9).
After being shut out in consecutive matches, Kansas City defeated the previously perfect Montreal Impact 2-0 last weekend and is looking to build off of that result. Known for its high-pressure style and ability to possess, Sporting’s playmaker Benny Feilhaber and scoring threats Graham Zusi and Designated Player Claudio Bieler will need to be contained. Kansas City is also riding a 339-minute shutout streak, the longest current mark in MLS.
“It’s a physical battle there,” said D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius. “Keeping them off the ball will be for us to hold the ball. When we do get it, kinda not just go for it all on a counterattack. If we need to slow the game down, we’ll slow the game.”
Despite losing its last game 2-1 to the Columbus Crew on March 23, the Black-and-Red has many positives to draw from the duel and has worked extensively during its bye week on offensive scenarios. New Young Designated Player Rafael scored 22 minutes into the match, the second-quickest goal in a debut start in club history. Midfielder Kyle Porter, a first-half substitute for an injured Nick DeLeon, exhibited his attacking prowess when he tallied the would-be go-ahead goal that was mistakenly disallowed. Winger Marcos Sanchez was away on Panama National Team duty during the Crew match, but is another viable option on the flanks.
“[Kyle] Porter’s got great offensive instincts,” said D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen. “We’re trying to bring him along on the other side and he’s getting there. Sanchez is a wonderful little player. He’s been in big games in the [Hexagonal Round] and we’re excited about both young talents.”
Apart from DeLeon, United will also be without captain Dwayne De Rosario (adductor strain), midfielder Lewis Neal (pubic stress reaction) and John Thorrington (L MCL strain). Despite missing some key pieces in the attack, Pontius is confident in his teammates’ abilities to slot in and make significant contributions in the game.
“You’re obviously going to see some new players out there tomorrow,” said Pontius. “The players are very capable filling in and obviously those two guys [De Rosario and DeLeon] are our big pieces, but it’s another chance for someone to step up and make a name for themselves.”