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Sporting Kansas City vs. Atlanta United FC | 2017 MLS Match Preview

Sporting Kansas City vs. Atlanta United FC
2017 MLS Regular Season
Children's Mercy Park - Kansas City, Kan.
Sunday, Aug. 6 - 8 p.m. ET
WATCH: FS1, FOX Deportes (USA) | TSN2 (Canada)

The challenges to Sporting Kansas City's unbeaten home form this season – across all competitions – just keep coming.

Having taken down the resurgent Chicago Fire 3-2 last weekend to remain undefeated in league play at Children's Mercy Park since last May, the Western Conference leaders now pit their league-leading defense against MLS' highest-scoring offense in Designated Player-studded Atlanta United FC.

Sporting manager Peter Vermes will have to make some decisions about the resources he commits to this one, with San Jose visiting on Wednesday for a semifinal match in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup – but if past history is any indication, Vermes is as likely to go heavy on the regulars in both matches and trust his club's defense and conditioning to prevail.

If he does hold anyone back on Sunday, it might be right back Graham Zusi, who worked the first half of Wednesday's AT&T 2017 MLS All-Star Game, presented by Target. Atlanta are more likely to be without an All-Star fullback on Sunday, after Greg Garza separated his right shoulder early in Wednesday's penalty-kicks loss to Real Madrid.

Sporting Kansas City

Vermes will have to answer one key question on Sunday, though: Who starts across the front line in his 4-3-3 setup?

It's not that the Dom Dwyer trade to Orlando City SC has left Vermes short of options – to the contrary, he doesn't have enough room to start everyone who's been playing well of late.

Winger Gerso, the club's leading scorer, is back from a one-match suspension. Wingers Daniel Salloi and Latif Blessing (both of whom can also play inside) have multiple goals across all competitions, and Diego Rubio – who has become Vermes' first choice in the striker role – has earned praise for his hold-up play and aggressiveness in the attack.

Even with Jimmy Medranda in more of a reserve playmaker's role these days (and liable to rest on Sunday so he can start at left back for the suspended Seth Sinovic in the Open Cup semis), that's still more candidates than spots in the XI. Odds are Vermes isn't complaining.

  • Suspended: None
  • Int'l duty: None
  • Injuries: OUT: F - Cameron Porter (broken fibula and ligament damage in right ankle 8/2, out for season) - REPORT

Projected starting XI (4-3-3, R-L): Tim Melia – Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic – Benny Feilhaber, Ilie, Roger Espinoza – Latif Blessing, Diego Rubio, Gerso

Notes: Sporting conceded twice in their 3-2 win over Chicago last weekend, their first time in 11 home league games this year that they conceded multiple goals (7W-4D; seven goals conceded total). … Since the start of the 2015 season, Sporting have scored 1.2 goals per 90 minutes played in the 7,109 minutes they played with Dom Dwyer on the field. In the 1,491 minutes they have played without him in regular season action, however, that number slightly increases to 1.3 goals per 90 minutes.   

Atlanta United

Even without the injured Josef Martinez, and despite needing a stoppage-time score to salvage last weekend's 1-1 draw against Orlando City, the Five Stripes are a multi-headed offensive juggernaut. DPs Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba are both capable of going off for big nights – and midfielder Yamil Asad is no slouch at getting into the mix, either.

In Atlanta United's defensive third, though, things haven't gone quite so well.

They've conceded 28 goals through 21 matches and struggled at times to build out of the back – a tendency other clubs have exploited and one that could lead to problems against Sporting's high press, especially if Garza can't go. 

Opposing goalkeepers have a history of coming up big in Children's Mercy Park, though – and Brad Guzan might need to do the same if he's to stay unbeaten since his return from England.

  • Suspended: None
  • Int'l duty: None
  • Injuries: OUT: F Kenwyne Jones (knee inflammation), GK Alec Kann (left quad injury 7/1, out 6-8 weeks), D Mark Bloom (lower back injury) F Josef Martinez (foot injury); DOUBTFUL: D Greg Garza (separated right shoulder)

Projected starting XI (3-4-3, left to right): Brad Guzan - Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst - Mikey Ambrose, Miguel Almiron, Carlos Carmona, Anton Walkes - Yamil Asad, Hector Villalba, Julian Gressel

Notes: Atlanta have only lost once in seven games against Western Conference opposition (4W-2D), averaging 2.7 goals per game across those seven matches. … Atlanta have won their last two road games, the first time in franchise history that they have won back-to-back away games. Both of those games were shutouts, moving their season total to three road clean sheets, tied for the second most in the league.   

All-Time Series

This is the first meeting between the two sides.

Officials

Referee: Chris Penso
Assistant Referees: Cameron Blanchard, Corey Rockwell
4TH: Sorin Stoica
Video Review: Juan Guzman Jr.

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