Preview: Sporting Kansas City (a).
When? Wednesday September 23 at 4.30 p.m. PT, 7.30 p.m. ET and 12:30 a.m. (24/9) BST.
Where? Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, KS.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes, Fox Sports App and DAZN for residents of the United States. This game is currently not scheduled for broadcast in the United Kingdom. Streams available via various betting apps. Please follow all terms and conditions of those applications when accessing their streams. The game is also available via radio locally (check local listings).
SKC's style of play
Whilst Orlando City will undoubtedly head to Kansas City in confident mood, this will be a tricky game. The Lions are coming off of back-to-back wins, whilst the home team suffered a frustrating 2-3 home defeat at the hands of FC Dallas. Don't let that result fool you though. Peter Verme's team are riding high in the western conference standings. SKC are currently second, having scored an impressive 23 goals on their way to 6 wins. On the offensive side of the ball, they are a very good team. Defensively... Umm. Not so much. SKC has had their backline breached 18 times during the regular season so far. You have to wonder if their defenders head out on to the field wondering if they're still in Kansas, all dazed and confused. As though a tornado just blitzed its way through the town. I'm sorry, OK. I couldn't help it. Look, you know what you're getting into when you read our posts. We're playing in Kansas. A 'Wizard of Oz' reference was inevitable. Can I (please) just do one more? Great. Thanks. Oscar Pareja will be hoping to lead his team down the (yellow brick) road to victory. I promise, I'm done.
As I've already mentioned, SKC are a team that can score goals. They create chances, lots of them, and they possess a lot of talent in the attacking third. The likes of Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton and Ferndandes Gerso are all very capable forwards. This is going to be a game where Orlando City cannot afford to make mistakes. Figure 1 shows just how dangerous this team is offensively, both from set pieces and open play. During their recent home defeat to FC Dallas, SKC created 20 opportunities. Of those 20, 12 came from open play and 8 came from set pieces. We all know that defending set pieces has been something of an Achilles heel for Orlando City in recent weeks. Oscar Pareja's team will have to be on their toes defensively.
Figure 1 shows the goal attempt statistics from SKC's 2-3 home defeat to Dallas.
There could also be an interesting match-up on SKC's left flank. With the likes of experienced duo Luís Martins and Gerso Fernandes on that left flank, SKC tend to focus a lot of their attacks down that side (figure 2). We all know how dangerous Orlando's right-hand side is, with Ruan and Chris Mueller. However, with the onus being on the home team to attack, and with a trip to Dallas on the horizon for the Lions, I do wonder if Kyle Smith will get another run out at RB? Defensively speaking, it would make a lot of sense. His inclusion would allow him to double up with Sebas Mendez (assuming he gets the nod again) and really nullify the space on that side of the field. Ruan could then be used as an impact sub, if necessary.
All that being said, this is a team that possesses tremendous quality in the all forward areas, and not just on the left. Whilst a lot of their attacks may come down that left-hand side, Orlando will still need to be wary of the threat of players like Russell on the opposite flank. If Kamal Miller gets another chance at left-back, you fancy he will have his work cut out against the former Dundee United man. Russell is predominantly left footed and likes to drift inside. As such, Urso/Rosell (in the left DM slot) will need to tuck into that space just inside the full-back to cut out those passing lanes in the final third.
Figure 2 highlights how SKC love to focus their attacks down the left flank.
The final point of note, regarding SKC's style concerns their ability to use a possession based approached. They are not necessarily a team that will always dominate the ball, but they are capable of doing so if you let them. During the defeat to Dallas, SKC maintained 64.4% of the play. They also attempted 517 passes with an 85% completion rate. This is MLS however, and possession is always likely to be conceded in defensive and midfield areas. Ball recoveries and turnovers will be so important for Orlando. You'll notice in figure 3, that the 3 players that saw the most possession for SKC were defenders. They like to try and play out from the back; putting them under pressure and winning the second balls, could lead to chances for the Lions. As such, the high press might be favourable in this game.
That being said, during the game against Dallas, the visitors were happy to sit tight and press at the right times. They didn't necessarily play with a high press as such. They knew that if they stayed reasonably compact and pounced on any loose balls, they could have some joy. Particularly, when playing as directly as they did. We know that Orlando favour a high press, but I just wonder if the Lions will play more of a patient game? Using tactics similar to those seen from Dallas? It would make sense considering the busy schedule. Watch this space.
Figure 3 shows some passing and possession statistics from SKC's game against Dallas.
Peter Verme does have some selection dilemmas to ponder, going into this game. Alan Pulido is nearing a return to full fitness. Gianluca Busio is suspended, having totalled 5 yellow cards. His 5th booking came in the game against Dallas. Elsewhere on the team, SKC are without Roger Espinoza (not medically cleared), Felipe Gutierrez (knee), Richard Sanchez (not medically cleared) and Daniel Solloi (not medically cleared).
Orlando City, meanwhile, have a clean bill of health. Aside from those pre-existing injuries to Dom Dwyer (knee) and João Moutinho (groin).
Possible starting XI
As I mentioned previously, Busio is suspended for this game. As such, Cameron Duke could well take his place in midfield. Having lost their last game, I would expect the home team to go full strength, before rotating in Colorado at the weekend. They will want to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible. Especially considering they may have the chance to move to first in the standings. I think we could well see an, otherwise, unchanged team.
I'll admit, I'm a little biased against him. It borders on hatred to be honest, from his Derby County days. Too often he was a thorn in my Nottingham Forest's side. For those of you who don't know, Derby and Forest is a huge rivalry game in my region. Anyway, I digress.
Since arriving in MLS, the Scotsman has impressed for SKC. He has 5 goals and 1 assist on the season so far. Overall he has plundered 22 goals in 69 games during his time in Kansas City. He's a tenacious, left footed winger. He usually plays on the right hand side, and will oftentimes drift inside and try to take shots from distance. He's arguably their biggest attacking threat. Which seems funny, when you consider how much they like to attack down the left flank.
Orlando City are flying right now. The Lions have taken 14 points from the last 21 available. A run that has seen them climb to third in the east. At the time of writing, Oscar Pareja's team were the leading scorers in the eastern conference. Last time out Orlando stuck 4 past Chicago, despite not being at their best. A victory that lifted them to 6-4-2 on the season.
As we've already discussed, SKC lost their last game. They are currently 6-2-4 on the season and sit second in the west. Orlando are winless in their 2 MLS visits to Children's Mercy Park. Those of you who've been around since the USL days will doubtless remember Orlando's memorable 1-0 away win in the US Open Cup back in 2013. A lone Long Tan goal was enough to lift Adrian Heath's City to victory over Uri Rosell's SKC.