D.C. United returns to the Midwest to face a strong Sporting Kansas City side (8:00 p.m. ET / NBC Sports Network). Once again, the Black-and-Red will have the chance to play spoiler against one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams as Kansas City vies for the Supporters’ Shield as well as playoff positioning.
Sporting come into the game with a mark of 5-4-1 in its last ten matches, a stretch in which seven games were decided by one goal. Most recently, Kansas City played to a scoreless draw with Houston on Oct. 9—with both sides missing key players, neither team offered much by way of attacking impetus. But Sporting will return to full-strength and likely feature several of its dangerous playmakers against United. Claudio Bieler, despite suffering several injury setbacks, leads the team with 10 goals on the campaign, and the duo of C.J. Sapong and Soony Saad have contributed eight strikes in his absence. As always, American international Graham Zusi will be a constant threat—the winger has five goals and six assists on the year.
In the first of two early-season meetings with the Black-and-Red, Kansas City defeated United 1-0 at Sporting Park behind an 89th-minute goal from Bieler. On May 19, just over a month later, the teams drew 1-1 at RFK Stadium as a fine finish from Kyle Porter canceled out Ike Opara’s strike. All-time, D.C. is 18-19-10 against the current second-place side, and Sporting will be keen to improve that mark and keep pace with New York and Portland in the race for the Supporters’ Shield.
While United isn’t pushing for a playoff spot, the squad still wants to perform well in its closing matches. Last weekend, D.C. drew 1-1 with Philadelphia at a rainy RFK Stadium after conceding a late equalizer to Jack McInerney. But there were many bright spots for United, including a rocket from Nick DeLeon—his second League goal of the season—a dominant first-half display and an equal number of shots as the playoff-hopeful Union.
Bill Hamid, who made five saves in the match, discussed the team’s focus after their hard-earned point.
"The intensity has been really high," Hamid said after Wednesday’s training session. "Guys have come in really sharp from our Philly performance."
Still, he added that there’s certainly room for improvement at both ends of the pitch.
"Harping on defensive things in our own third. Making sure we're clean in the back and solid all around the field. If we do those things, we'll get the job done.”
Assistant Coach Josh Wolff, a former player for the then-Wizards, outlined Sporting’s high-energy play and what the Black-and-Red can expect on Friday night.
"They play with high intensity, with a high line of pressure," he said. "Their midfield gets after it, the forwards set the tempo for them and the backs come hard...they get numbers after you, and they try to turn you over in the midfield and shorten the field on you."
On Oct. 27, United returns home for its final game of the 2013 campaign against the Houston Dynamo (1:30 p.m. ET / NBC). Join us at RFK Stadium as we celebrate Fan Appreciation Day with special promotions and giveaways while paying tribute to the greatest fans in MLS. Buy your tickets here.