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Struggling Sporting KC gets first chance at D.C. United’s home

(Image:Twitter/@SportingKC)

Sporting Kansas City finds itself in an unusual spot — below the red line in the Western Conference — as manager Peter Vermes’ squad travels to Washington D.C. to face D.C. United in a nationally televised match Sunday night. It’s Sporting’s first visit to D.C. United’s new home, Audi Field.

Sporting KC (2-3-4, 10 points) is two points below the line while suffering through a seven-match winless streak across all competitions. SKC’s last win came March 30 in a 3-0 defeat of the Montreal Impact. Sporting suffered a 3-0 home loss to Atlanta in their last match on May 5 and is winless on the road in 2019.

D.C. United (6-3-2, 20 points) is in a three-way tie for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with Montreal and Philadelphia. A solid home record at Audi Field has lifted the D.C. United to its lofty perch, after finishing 2017 and spending the first half of 2018 in last place in the Eastern Conference. D.C. United owns a 15-4-2 record at home since the facility opened.

D.C. United is led by Wayne Rooney (six goals, three assists) and Luciano Acosta (three goals, two assists). The duo has formed a strong attack since joining forces last summer when Rooney came to MLS. In 30 matches, Rooney has 18 goals and 10 assists, and D.C. United has an 18-7-5 win-loss record. Acosta, meanwhile, ranked second in 2018 with 17 assists to go with 10 goals. Both players scored goals in the 3-1 victory over Columbus May 4.

“At times tonight we played with good composure,” Rooney said after the Columbus game. “Our pressure was better. We forced them into playing long balls, which they didn’t want to do. We had some very good goals.

“Over the course of 90 minutes, the way we defended … helped us be on the front foot.”

D.C. United also has been better on defense. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is tied for the MLS lead with five clean sheets. Center backs Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum rank first and second, respectively, in clearances. Midfielders Junior Moreno and Lucas Rodriguez are among the league leaders in tackles and duels.

Sporting has struggled this season, mostly because of injuries to many of its front-line men. Several regulars could miss Sunday’s match, either because of injury or international call-ups: Roger Espinoza (knee), Gerso Fernandes (wrist), Andreu Fontas (calf), Jimmy Medranda (knee), Matt Besler (hamstring) and Graham Zusi (oblique) are either listed as out or questionable. Academy products Gianluca Busio and Tyler Freeman are with the United States U-17 Men’s National Team.

Sporting KC welcomed an old friend back via trade on Wednesday when midfielder Benny Feilhaber was acquired in a trade from the Colorado Rapids. The 34-year-old attacking midfielder previously starred in Kansas City from 2013-17 and helped the side to the 2013 MLS Cup and two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles.

“We needed to add someone to our team,” Vermes said. “It’s more than being able to play. Everybody knows that Benny can play. But Benny has a personality where he’s not afraid to put people on edge a little bit. I think having that in the team is good. He’s someone who can help us immensely on the field through this tough time when we have a lot of guys missing.”

Washington has been favorable to Sporting recently. Sporting has just one loss in the past seven visits since 2011, conceding three goals during that seven-game stretch (2-1-4). The last battle between the teams in D.C. resulted in a 0-0 draw as Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia saved a penalty kick on the opening day of the 2017 campaign. The most recent meeting at Children’s Mercy Park was decided by Felipe Gutierrez, who fired the hosts ahead after three minutes in a 1-0 win on March 31, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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