Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sporting KC can get home field advantage with win Sunday

Sporting Kansas City, in first place in the Eastern Conference with three games to play in the regular season, returns to the road to take on Columbus at 3:00 p.m. CT on Sunday at Crew Stadium.

The match will be broadcast live on KSMO-TV (Kansas City), KMTW (Wichita) and WIBW (Topeka), with radio coverage available on La Gran D 1340 AM.

The only team in the Eastern Conference to have earned a berth in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, Sporting Kansas City can secure one of the East’s top two seeds – and home field advantage in the Conference Semifinals – with a win on Sunday, regardless of other MLS results.

However, Sunday’s stakes could be raised when the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls meet on Saturday in a nationally televised encounter at 2:30 p.m. CT on NBC.

Sporting KC currently holds a five-point lead over both clubs and should their match end in a draw, Sporting Kansas City could secure first place in the East for the second straight season – and home field advantage through the Conference Championship – with a victory at the Crew.

Sporting Kansas City will take a nine-game unbeaten run, the longest streak in MLS this year, into the match and will look to avenge the team’s last loss, a 2-1 home defeat against Columbus on July 28.

The season series is split with one win apiece and will be decided on Sunday at Crew Stadium, where Sporting KC posted a 2-0 victory earlier this year.

Manager Peter Vermes’ squad has earned points in 11 of the team’s 15 games away from home for the best road record (8-4-3) in MLS this season.

A ninth win on the road would equal the MLS record for most in a season in regulation, accomplished by three previous teams.

Led by captain Jimmy Nielsen, the Danish goalkeeper has played every minute for Sporting Kansas City this season en route to an MLS-best 14 shutouts and 17 wins.

His 0.81 goals against average is on pace to be among the best in MLS history and another victory will see Nielsen tie the MLS record for wins in a campaign.

Graham Zusi powered Sporting Kansas City in the team’s 2-0 win over Chicago last week, scoring both goals in the game, and he leads MLS with 14 assists in 2012.

Kei Kamara has a team-best and career-high 11 goals this season, while sending more shots (130) and shots on goal (48) than any player in MLS on the year.

As a team, Sporting Kansas City’s 508 shots lead the League and have the squad poised to surpass the mark for most in club history, set back in 1996 with 514.

On the opposite end of the field, Sporting Kansas City have allowed the fewest shots (295) and shots on goal (89) of all 19 teams in MLS.

Conversely, Sunday’s opponent has allowed the second-most shots (457) and shots on goal (160) with Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum called upon to make the most saves in MLS this year with 113.

In sixth place, Columbus sits one point back of Houston prior to the weekend for the East’s fifth and final playoff berth.

The team has reached the postseason each of the last four years, a streak that ties for the longest in MLS along with Real Salt Lake.

Offensively, the club has been boosted by the mid-season additions of strikers Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain.

The team’s leading scorer with eight goals, Arrieta has a goal or an assist in four straight appearances and scored twice against Sporting Kansas City in the previous meeting.

Higuain, acquired as a Designated Player during the summer transfer window, has three goals and team-best six assists in 10 appearances.

Head Coach Robert Warzycha will be without Danny O’Rourke, suspended for caution accumulation, but has won each of the club’s last five matches at home and is unbeaten in seven straight at Crew Stadium since falling to Sporting KC in July.

Columbus have left it late in each of the team’s past five wins, scoring the game-winning goal in the 86th minute or later, and are coming off a dramatic 3-2 victory over Philadelphia last Saturday.

Sporting Kansas City supporters can follow Sunday’s game online via @SKCGameday on Twitter and the MatchCenter, or on mobile devices with Sporting Explore and MLS MatchDay apps.