Aug 22, 2013, 8:00 PM EDT
• Chicago Fire will be without head coach Frank Klopas and defender Bakary Soumaré, both sent off in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. For Sporting Kansas City, Kei Kamara‘s sprained ankle from earlier this month has not healed yet.
• The all-time series heavily favors Chicago, with a record of 23-12-10, but Kansas City won 2-1 at Toyota Park on July 7, and the teams played to a scoreless tie on March 16, way back at the start of the season.
• Sporting has lost three of its last four games for the second time in 2013. Last time, Kansas City followed up that run with a difficult 1-0 win over Eastern Conference rival Houston Dynamo away from home.
When the Chicago Fire hosts Sporting Kansas City on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), both teams could be fielding second-choice players in attacking spots.
Key Kansas City men Graham Zusi and Kei Kamara are questionable for the match, as is Chicago Fire leading scorer Mike Magee and the club’s second- and third-highest scorers, Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko. As a result, neither club scored in its previous game, a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution for Chicago and a 1-0 setback against the San Jose Earthquakes for Sporting.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (pictured) has shown his worth as one of MLS’s top shot-stoppers in the past couple seasons, and he will have to be on point again for Kansas City to succeed in a tough Chicago environment. The way the wind whips around Toyota Park can confuse goalkeepers in reading aerial balls, and it can even slow down balls on the ground if it is blowing with enough intensity.
Chicago has lost just that one match in its previous five outings, a run that has seen the Fire draw closer to the line in the standings separating the playoff-bound teams from those whose seasons will end after the regular season. The team just above it, New England, was the one that beat it last week.
Kansas City, meanwhile, has a different goal in mind. Despite its loss last week, Sporting is just three points behind Real Salt Lake in the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield, tied with the New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers with 38 points.
With both teams fighting for their lives in different respects as the MLS calendar nears its playoff run, it won’t matter which set of players ends up on the field — everybody will be desperate for points.
What they’re saying
Sporting Kansas City defender Seth Sinovic on playing the Fire: “It’s always a tough game against Chicago. It seems to be a battle, a low-scoring game. We took one from them last time we were up there in Chicago, and hopefully, we can get another one this weekend.”
Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares on climbing up the table: “We’re definitely searching for points. Now, we’re in the final stretch of the season, with 12 games left. We’re right there. We’re knocking on the door. We’ve just got to keep pushing. It’s very, very important to get a win this Friday.”
Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes on the Eastern Conference standings: “Usually, the table gets sorted out a little more defined than it is right now. Everybody’s still in play. … A lot of teams are still in it. I think that’s the difference right now.”
It’s hard to see a makeshift Fire back line stopping Kansas City from getting through, even without Kei Kamara on the field. Sporting has enough firepower in its second string to take down a lot of first-choice MLS teams — and both teams remember how quickly (inside the first 10 minutes) Kansas City jumped out to a 2-0 lead last time they met. A win here will help Sporting keep pace at the top of the league table.
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