First place in the Eastern Conference is on the line tonight at Red Bull Arena as first-place Sporting Kansas City looks to become the first visiting MLS team to post a victory in the home of the New York Red Bulls.
Sporting KC enters the match with the best road record in the league, but they face a Red Bulls squad that is coming into the match as healthy and deep as they have been all season. The Red Bulls have rattled off five straight victories at home, with the most recent being a 3-1 win against Columbus that came on the strength of Thierry Henry's latest virtuoso performance.
For Sporting KC, containing Henry is a top priority, and centerbacks Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin are going to have to work together to ensure that the Frenchman doesn't weave more magic. The Red Bulls will need whoever starts at forward alongside Henry (be it Kenny Cooper, Sebastien LeToux or even Tim Cahill) to do enough to keep KC from keeping numbers around Henry.
The battle to watch will be in midfield, where Dax McCarty and Rafa Marquez will face off against Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza. battle in the middle the last time these teams met was an impressive one, with neither side yielding much in a 1-1 draw at Livestrong Sporting Park on Aug. 26th.
For Sporting KC, it will be imperative to get C.J. Sapong involved and try to get him matched up against Red Bulls defender Markus Holgersson. Sapong doesn't necessarily have the kind of speed that has proven to cause Holgersson trouble, but he showed last week against Houston that he is in good form and will cause problems for the big Swede.
The Red Bulls will need Heath Pearce to provide cover for both Holgersson, and for left back Wilman Conde, who is sure to have his hands full against Graham Zusi.
Zusi is enjoying a stellar run of form and will cause problems with his movement and deadly passing eye. Zusi's recent shift to the right wing will make him even tougher for the Red Bulls to deal with, and will mean Heath Pearce having to help out Wilman Conde.
If Kei Kamara is deployed on the left flank, then it will likely set up an intriguing match-up with Connor Lade. The rookie right back has stood up well against big forwards, such as Macoumba Kandji, and he is physical enough to frustrate Kamara, who is one of the keys to Sporting KC's attacking success.
Sporting KC has enjoyed success on the road because of their defensive discipline and their ability to make the most of the few chances they create. They will find chances against New York because of the Red Bulls penchant for slow starts. The key for KC having success tonight will be containing Henry and pressuring the flanks in order to limit the options Henry and Cahill will have on the attack.
As important as Henry is to the Red Bulls attack, they will need Cahill to be effective tonight. Not only in terms of putting in the work in midfield, and helping win that battle, but also by being a threat getting forward and putting pressure on the area between the Sporting KC back-line and midfield.
How do you see tonight's match going? Think the Red Bulls keep their home winning streak going, or do you see Sporting KC having the defensive discipline to leave New Jersey with a point or three?
Share your thoughts below.