The Rapids take on Sporting for the third time this season when the club travels to Kansas City on Saturday. The previous two matches resulted in a contentious 3-2 loss and a 1-1 tie at DICK'S Sporting Goods Park in September. Colorado will look to get a victory over their neighbors to the East, who currently hold the third spot in the Western Conference.
The past couple years for Sporting Kansas City have seen them lead the Western Conference in points in 2018 and finish second to last in 2019. The roster from those two campaigns features a lot of familiar faces: Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza and Johnny Russell. But something was clearly missing for Peter Vermes’ side and this past offseason, he made a marquee acquisition: Alan Pulido.
The Mexican striker arrived from Guadalajara after stops with Olympiacos, Levadiakos in Greece and Tigres in Mexico. The move to the City of Fountains came after what was described as a club-record transfer fee and stratospheric levels of hype. Peter Vermes and co. finally had their number nine.
But due to injury and national team duty, Pulido has featured in only 10 of his side’s 18 matches. We’ll have to wait and see if he’s available for this game, but, even if he’s out, Sporting have attacking options. The Scotsman winger Johnny Russell leads the team with six goals, forward Erik Hurtado has scored in two of the last three matches and forward Khiry Shelton and midfielder Gadi Kinda have combined for nine goals.
Leaving Children’s Mercy Park with a result is never easy, but the Rapids did it last year, and here’s how they can do it again.
1. Clog the Middle.
Sporting KC have found attacking success when they’ve been able to get the ball out wide at the feet of Johnny Russell to let him create. The Rapids can neutralize this threat and force the ball into the middle of the pitch where defenders Lalas Abubakar and Danny Wilson can deftly handle anybody dribbling into them. Left back Sam Vines didn’t make MLS’ 22 Under 22 list because he’s a slouch. When Sporting send the ball out on the right wing, watching the individual battle between him and Russell could be one of the highlights of the match.
2. Bassett vs Busio.
In MLS’ latest 22 Under 22 list, SKC midfielder Gianluca Busio slotted in at 9th and Rapids homegrown Cole Bassett landed at 7th. Bassett plays an attack-minded midfield position that’s has him leading the Rapids in combined goals and assists in 2020, while Busio has played as both an eight and a six at times for SKC. The two teenagers will go up against each other— possibly directly against each other if Busio plays the defensive midfield role— and the outcome of the match could be decided by their individual confrontations.
3. Defensive form.
After such a long layoff for the Rapids, getting back into game shape and getting up to speed in the match will be critical. When we last left things, the Rapids had three shutouts in their previous four matches. Sporting KC have only been shutout once in 2020. There’s an old saying in sports: defense travels. It means regardless of where you play, the weather conditions, factors outside your control (like a month-long hiatus), a team can always defend because it comes down to hustle and wanting to defend. If the defending is there, the Rapids can get their sea legs back and begin to mount attacks.