It is playoff time and tomorrow the Portland Timbers will host Sporting Kansas City in a single-game knockout round matchup. With the three previous contests between the two teams ending 0-0, 0-0, and 0-1 to the bad guys, this match seems destined to be a close contest.
To get a better idea of what to expect from Kansas City this time around, we reached out to our SB Nation sister site The Blue Testament to get some questions answered.
Sporting have been in rough shape recently, losing to the San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids before managing a 2-1 victory over the notoriously road-averse LA Galaxy; what is going on in Kansas City that is causing the team to struggle so much?
A problem this team has dealt with all season long is playing to the level of the opponent. They can hang with anybody, but they will also let anybody hang with them. At times Sporting look unstoppable, but they can also make you question how you ever thought they were any good at all this season! When the swoon in late August came, it was a perfect storm of injuries, call ups, and suspensions. Recently in the San Jose game, a pretty funky lineup was forced upon Peter Vermes and they were never able to find themselves. But the Colorado game was absolutely horrible. Nobody can really pin point the problem there. Especially when they come back a few days later and beat LA. I suppose it is possible KC was guilty of looking passed the Rapids, but their quotes leading up to it certainly didn't sound like that.
One thing is for sure about this team, they can grind out a result whenever it is truly necessary. They may not beat up on bad teams very often, but they will give themselves a shot anywhere. Even in what is sure to be a ruckus playoff environment against a solid Timbers side.
Benny Feilhaber was out of the starting XI against the Galaxy in what was refereed to as a "coach's decision" before the match only to come on in the second half and play his best soccer in weeks. All this came after Feilhaber was a regular part of the MVP talk for much of the early season but had been middling at best recently. What is up with Benny? Was his benching warranted and will we see him make a return on for the playoffs?
If there has been something up with Benny, it has been behind the scenes. After the match, Vermes said it was a matter of fitness claiming he did not think Benny was 90 minutes fit. That being said, PV has shown he will not hesitate in benching a player he thinks is not performing at his potential. While Feilhaber had by no means been playing poorly, this very well could have been something to fire up and inspire his most important player. Dwyer summed it up nicely after the match when Vermes fielded that very first question. "It worked," Dom said. When he came on, it was crystal clear that Benny is the most important player for SKC. The whole team looked more confident and creative. He is the magic in this team going forward.
Yes, Benny will be good to go on Thursday. He is really pumped up and ready to find another gear. He left us with this after the match. "I like to think there is a playoff Benny as well."
The Timbers have been in rampant goal-scoring form in the last two games, getting over a fifth of their goals for the 2015 season in those matches. In the team's three matches against SKC, however, the Timbers have been shut out three times. What have you seen from SKC that let them shut the Timbers down and will they be able to do for a fourth time on Thursday?
Earlier in the season, I think it was a matter of two solid teams unable to find a breakthough against each other. Both teams play smart defense and were pretty evenly matched. That, and Tim Melia has bailed this team out (especially against Portland) more times than anyone can count.
Most recently, KC was again forced into a very weird lineup. Vermes trotted out a front three consisting entirely of back-ups and even lacking a real striker. It was just a few days after playing 120 minutes plus PK's to win the Open Cup, so legs were tired. Because of this, I don't think anyone would deny SKC went into a very defensive mindset playing in Portland. After his team did the job in keeping the game close, Vermes was able to bring on starters to try and steal points. But as you mentioned, this time around Portland is in great offensive form. PLUS, the SKC defense has made some terrible, awful, embarrassing mistakes/giveaways the last couple weeks.
So Sporting KC will probably again come out in a defensive mindset to open the game, but no, I'm not expecting another shutout going into Providence Park. The starting lineup will be as full strength as Vermes has been able to do all season, they are coming off a big win against LA, and Krisztian Nemeth should be extra confident against the Timbers defense. I'm thinking 0-0 through 90 minutes again is highly unlikely.
Lineup Prediction: (4-3-3) Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Kevin Ellis, Chance Myers, Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Kristztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Score Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 2 - 1 Portland Timbers FC
You can find our answers to The Blue Testament's questions right here.