NEW YORK CITY, NY – With as many as five starters hobbled by injury, New York City FC will host Sporting KC Wednesday night in the Bronx.
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC comes into the Bronx as the third-place team in the West. With 40 points from 25 matches and a league-low goals-against (19), SKC has their stingy defense to thank for rarely giving up a goal. Unfortunately for them, their goals-for mark (31) is tied for fourth-worst in the league. They say defense wins championships, and that was certainly in the cards for Sporting in the early part of the year (and may still be). It was an odd thing, then, for KC to sell off Dom Dwyer to Orlando and not replace him with the impact striker the club so desperately needs.
Granted Dwyer had been struggling. With only five goals in 16 matches, something clearly needed to change for Dwyer or for Sporting if they were to capitalize on the fantastic defensive year they’ve been having. The striker’s sale, however, hasn’t amounted to anything. If not for a mid-May hat-trick by Gerso, Dwyer would still lead the team with only 5 goals.
Sporting KC’s strength is obviously their defending, but they will be without two prominent mainstays: Matt Besler and Graham Zusi – both returning from international duty with the USMNT. Still, Ike Opara is among the top centerbacks in the league (arguably the top CB), and Erik Palmer-Brown is a more-than-capable depth piece that could be starting on other teams.
New York City FC
After a week and a half off, NYCFC remain in second place in the East, with Chicago Fire doing all they can to widen the gap. City have a game in hand both above and below, and to date have only a single loss at home (to SKC’s two wins away). Their 48 goals are tied for second in the league.
Where do we begin? NYCFC will have five starters unavailable due to injury (Matarrita, Chanot, White, Villa, & Ring). Add to that depth players Mikey Lopez and Miguel Camargo, combined with returning internationals Yangel Herrera and Rodney Wallace (who is also suspended), and the Pigeon’s situation looks dire. In fact, Patrick Vieira will have to include third-string ‘keeper Andre Rawls in the squad just to fill it out…and he’ll still only have 17 players to work with Wednesday night.
While Ring’s injury is going to be evaluated by team doctors upon his return (and it would be extremely welcome), the club cannot count on his participation. That leaves Vieira with precarious options in the midfield.
We’ve seen both Maxi Moralez and Andrea Pirlo operate together before to less-than-stellar results. Interesting alternatives could be either Kwame Awuah or James Sands. Awuah has gotten scant minutes, but those he has have been in the midfield. Sands, of course, we’ve seen in the preseason and he didn’t look out of place. It’s entirely possible he gets a chance at his professional debut, whether at the start or as a sub. Either way, the opportunity exists for someone to make their case.
Finally, without Villa, we will get to see what reigning USL MVP Ugo Okoli can do. His opportunities have been hampered by what he’s been asked to do, often being subbed on simply to hold-up the ball. Having a taller, stronger forward might be a boon for guys like Jonathan Lewis and RJ Allen, who love to loft the ball into the box with precision crosses. Okoli will get his opportunities, but he must capitalize on them. With DP slots opening up over the next few years, if Okoli wants to seize a starting spot, he must take advantage.