Sporting KCSKC
Fri, Sep 28
8:30 PM ET

Preview: Top of the East showdown as SKC host Chicago

September 28, 2012 (WEEK 30, MLS Game #284)
7:30 p.m. CT (NBC SN; TSN2)
A mouthwatering clash for the top of the Eastern Conference is ahead before an NBC Sports Network audience on Friday night as two of the hottest teams in MLS meet when Sporting Kansas City play host to the Chicago Fire. Sporting lead the East by two points and could book their passage for the MLS Cup Playoffs with a win, now unbeaten in eight games after a scoreless draw at Montréal. The Fire have won four games on the trot to pull within striking distance of the East lead, after yet another come-from-behind win in a 2-1 defeat of Columbus last weekend.
REFEREE: Chris Penso. AR1 (bench): Chris Strickland; AR2 (opposite): Eric Proctor; 4th: Ted Unkel
MLS Career: 29 games; FC/gm: 22.0; Y/gm: 2.8; R: 6; pens: 11
SPORTING KANSAS CITY – OUT: FW Teal Bunbury (L knee ACL tear); DF Cyprian Hedrick (L fibula fracture); QUESTIONABLE: MF Paulo Nagamura (R foot contusion)
CHICAGO FIRE – OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair); QUESTIONABLE: MF Pavel Pardo (L calf tightness)
KC: Jacob Peterson (through Sept. 30)
KC: Julio Cesar
CHI: Pavel Pardo
KC: Chance Myers, Jimmy Nielsen, Paulo Nagamura, Lawrence Olum, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi
CHI: Sebastian Grazzini, Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Oduro, Gonzalo Segares
ALL-TIME (42 meetings): Sporting 10 wins (0 shootout), 50 goals … Fire 23 wins (1 shootout), 80 goals … Ties 9
AT KC (22 meetings): Sporting 7 wins (0 shootout), 31 goals … Fire 8 wins (1 shootout), 37 goals … Ties 7
2012 (MLS)
5/12: CHI 2, KC 1 (Grazzini 61; Oduro 81 – Convey 31)
6/29: KC 0, CHI 1 (Pappa 58)
  • The teams are meeting for the third time this season, and the Fire have won the first two. Goals by Sebastian Grazzini and Dominic Oduro gave Chicago a 2-1 win May 12 at Toyota Park, then Marco Pappa scored the game’s only goal in a Fire win at KC on June 29.
  • Kansas City hasn’t defeated Chicago at home since 2007. The Fire have won two of the six meetings since, with four draws. Last year’s meeting, a scoreless draw, was the grand opening of Livestrong Sporting Park.
  • Coaches' records: Peter Vermes vs. CHI: P7 W1 L4 D2 … Frank Klopas vs. KC: P3 W2 L0 D1
The game's lone goal came after 58 minutes. On a swift counterattack, the Fire's Marco Pappa breaking down the middle, fed Chris Rolfe on the left, then slotted the return ball low between goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and Matt Besler and into the back of the net from the heart of the area.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-2-3-1): Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Lawrence Olum (Matt Besler 19), Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic - Julio Cesar (Peterson Joseph 82), Roger Espinoza - Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong (Soony Saad 72) - Teal Bunbury.
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich (Hunter Jumper 79), Austin Berry, Dan Gargan - Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo - Patrick Nyarko (Rafael Robayo 82), Chris Rolfe, Marco Pappa (Alex 64) - Dominic Oduro.
Sporting Kansas City concluded their two-game road swing by extending their long undefeated run, gaining a scoreless draw with the Montréal Impact on Saturday afternoon at Stade Saputo. Sporting are in first place in the Eastern Conference, with 55 points from 30 matches.
  • Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was credited with three saves in comfortably picking up his league-leading 14th shutout, making a key stop in stoppage time from Matteo Ferrari’s powerful header off a Marco Di Vaio free kick.
  • Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins made two saves on the rainy afternoon, not greatly troubled between the posts.
  • Sporting head coach Peter Vermes made four changes to the team that knocked off the New York Red Bulls 2-0 at Red Bull Arena. Michael Harrington and Lawrence Olum came into the back four for Chance Myers and Aurelien Collin, and Oriol Rosell and Jacob Peterson came into the side for Paulo Nagamura and Roger Espinoza.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-2-3-1): Jimmy Nielsen - Michael Harrington, Lawrence Olum, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic - Julio Cesar (Paulo Nagamura 60), Oriol Rosell (Peterson Joseph 90) - Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi, Jacob Peterson (Chance Myers 83) - C.J. Sapong.
  • Sporting concluded their two-game Eastern swing with four points from two matches and are now unbeaten in their last four games away from Kansas City. Sporting own the best road record in MLS this season at 8-4-3, percentage points ahead of San Jose (8-5-2).
  • “If you'd have told us that would be the case going into this trip, we'd have said, 'That'd be great,'” manager Peter Vermes said. “This was a huge result. We came to play, and for us to do that on such a quick turnaround, with (Montreal) having the week off, I'm very pleased with the point and the performance of all the guys.”
  • Sporting’s eight-game unbeaten run is their longest of the season, after winning seven consecutive games to start the year, and is tied for the longest in MLS this season (also: Houston, June 30-Aug. 3).
  • Sporting have allowed just four goals over their eight-game unbeaten streak, and have recorded four shutouts in the span.
  • “It was a big goal of ours going into the season, to make sure that we are defending well,” Vermes said. “I’m proud of the fact that we are really having a strong commitment to defense. Because to win, to be successful in this game, you have to have a good defense. Right now, the guys are committed to that, all the players, so far it’s been good.”
  • Jimmy Nielsen recorded his 13th shutout in the draw in Montréal, now two ahead of Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall for the MLS lead in the category. “It’s not a goal for me when I go on the field to get a shutout; it’s a bonus if it happens, Nielsen said. “We didn’t score today, so the best we could get out of this is a point. But for the last five days, we are pretty satisfied with four points.
  • With Sporting playing a second game on the road in four days, midfielder Oriol Rosell was given his first MLS start, playing a central midfield role. Rosell had made three previous appearances, the longest a 12-minute stint.
  • “I asked him to do something different, because I thought Naga was struggling a little bit,” manager Peter Vermes said. “So he did something that he wasn't normally used to. But I tell you what, he did a good job. He was good in the game. His instincts to move the ball were excellent, and he put himself in good positions to really help us at times.” Said midfielder Graham Zusi: “I thought he played well. He played smart, simple and he found his gaps pretty well.”
  • Jacob Peterson also returned to the starting lineup for the first time since July 28, after having come on as a substitute in each of the last two games. But Peterson will be suspended for the Chicago match after he was shown a red card while sitting on the bench after being substituted in the 83rd minute.
  • Having not made an appearance since Aug. 4, when he forced to leave after just seven minutes of the match vs. New England, Bobby Convey has returned to training. But Vermes did not set a timetable for his return to the lineup.
  • “I couldn't tell you right now,” Vermes said. “I don't want to all of a sudden say, 'Hey, get into a game.' That doesn't make sense either. I'd like to see him get more opportunity here as we go forward. It'd be great to get him into some of the games late in the season and then into the playoffs, to have him available at least.”
  • With a victory, or with a tie or even a loss and the right combination of results, Sporting will become the first Eastern Conference team to secure its place in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • “We're locking in to the end of the season, trying to make a strong run for the Supporters’ Shield,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “These games, they're more of a battle than anything. We matched the intensity of Montreal, and I think we're really homing into these last few games.”
The Chicago Fire extended their winning to four games, coming back for a 2-1 win against the Columbus Crew on Saturday evening at Toyota Park. The Fire are in second place in the Eastern Conference with 53 points from 29 games.
  • The Crew took the lead in the 15th minute. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson’s pass went directly to the feet of Columbus forward Jairo Arrieta, who dribbled past a diving Johnson and beat sliding defender Arne Friedrich for his sixth goal of the year.
  • But the Fire were level just eight minutes later. Forward Sherjill MacDonald found Chris Rolfe with a throughpass, and he buried a shot past goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum from just inside the area.
  • Three minutes later, Rolfe settled a pass from Patrick Nyarko just outside the penalty area and calmly placed a curling shot out of Gruenebaum’s reach.
  • Fire head coach Frank Klopas made no changes to the team that came back for a 3-1 win against the Montréal Impact at Toyota Park.
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Jalil Anibaba, Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares - Logan Pause, Alex (Wells Thompson 89) - Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe (Dominic Oduro 84), Alvaro Fernandez - Sherjill MacDonald (Daniel Paladini 78).
  • The Fire have won four games in a row, their longest winning streak in seven years, matching the club’s longest since winning 11 in a row in its inaugural campaign of 1998.
  • “We made a mistake, we gave up the goal, but I gave so much credit to the team. You know, we never panicked, we kept playing the same way and we scored two very nice goals,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. “We had some opportunities in the second half to put the game away and I think in the end it was a little bit difficult because as a tendency when you’re up we dropped a little bit off and then they played everything in the box. Lot of long balls, which is our strength.”
  • Heading into the All-Star break, the Fire were in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Since then, they’ve lost just once in nine games, going 7-1-1 – and could take over the top spot in the division with a victory.
  • “We’re excited that there’s so much on the line with every game. I think that’s the exciting part. We didn’t have this in the past and I think the players are excited for sure,” Klopas said. “The pressure is how you deal with it and I think we’ve dealt well. We’ve prepared well and I think that’s what gives players confidence on the field which is very important.”
  • The Fire have scored 19 goals in their last eight games, hitting for multiple goals in each one. It’s by far the longest such streak in MLS this season (San Jose currently has a five-game streak alive).
  • “As the season draws to a close and you get to the playoffs, we’re not going to have like, eight, nine, 10 chances a game like we’ve been creating in the last several games,” Chris Rolfe said. “Tonight was an eye opener that it’s going to be tougher toward the end of the season and in the playoffs. You don’t get as many chances, so you have to be good with the finishes.”
  • For a second consecutive game, the Fire came from behind to win after allowing the opening goal. They have won a remarkable seven games after conceding first; next in MLS is New York with five wins after allowing the opener.
  • “We seem to start out decent in a game then go down a goal and respond to that,” Rolfe said. "That’s something that we have to fix, but it’s still a good thing that we can come back from that.”
  • The Fire allowed a single goal for a fourth consecutive match, having gone since July 14 without posting a shutout.
  • “For me, the important thing is that we don’t give up goals,” said defender Arne Friedrich. “It was a little unlucky how we gave up the goal, but the most important thing is the character of the team. There were games this season that we went down a goal and we came back fantastic – same as today – and this is what counts.”
  • Rolfe scored his second two-goal game since his return to MLS in the Fire’s 2-1 come-from-behind win vs. Columbus. He has a goal or an assist in six of the last nine games, with seven goals and an assist in that time.
  • Patrick Nyarko collected his seventh assist on Rolfe’s opening goal, now the Fire leader in the category. “He’s done a great job for us this year; this time he came down the side pulling attention away from me and Sherjill [MacDonald] and he happened to find my feet. I took a good first touch and had a pretty good finish,” Rolfe said.
  • Pavel Pardo was forced to miss a second consecutive match with calf tightness, and was listed as questionable on the club’s injury report to start the week.
  • “I’m glad it’s now and not in the end. I will see every day how I feel, how the muscle progresses,” Pardo said. “Sometimes it’s like that, so many games, so many minutes I was playing during the season. But I’m OK. I feel better day-by-day.”
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