Atlanta United (2-3-2) have won two of their last three matches, and they’re looking to continue their good run of form on the road this weekend. But they face Sporting Kansas City (2-2-4), one of the most talented squads in the league that’s hoping to keep their 10-match home unbeaten streak in league play alive. Last time these two played at Children’s Mercy Park, it came down to the final moments and it’s sure to be just as thrilling of a matchup on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET on FS1.
Ahead of Atlanta United’s latest road test, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
At the heart of the Sporting KC machine is a creative, technical, lively presence with a high soccer IQ in Chilean international Felipe Gutierrez. The Designated Player signed with KC last year and proved impactful early, scoring five goals through his first five games, but an injury forced him to miss a major chunk of the 2018 season. But he’s entered 2019 healthy, appearing in every regular season match thus far and playing a pivotal role in their CONCACAF Champions League run earlier this year. At the age of 28 and with 35 international caps under his belt, he’s a clever, two-way midfielder that loves to be on the ball and can take control of any game from the center of the park. If Atlanta can limit his time on the ball and involvement in Sporting’s possession game, it will go a long way in cracking the KC cauldron.
Defend the Dangermen
There’s a reason Sporting KC has bagged 19 goals in just 8 matches (tied for 2nd in goals for in all of MLS) and much of it is due to their dynamic attacking duo up front: Scotsman Johnny Russell and Hungarian Krisztian Nemeth, who are responsible for 10 of the team’s total so far. Russell joined Sporting in 2018 and enjoyed a breakout season with his pace, energy and technical ability leading to 10 goals and 10 assists on the year. Nemeth, who returned to the club in 2018 after a short spell in 2015, has earned his spot as the starting point man this season. And it’s paid off, with the target forward recording two multi-goal matches already this year. He reads the game well and anticipates scoring opportunities, and combines that with the technical ability to finish the play. Russell and Nemeth provide different skillsets but are equally as threatening, so the Atlanta defense will need to keep an eye on them at all times.
Year after year, Sporting KC is consistently one of the hardest teams to beat and it’s because they are so difficult to break down defensively. Much of that is credit to Sporting Director/Manager Peter Vermes who has instilled a strong culture of discipline and work ethic into the Western Conference club. But injuries have played a toll this season and have shown vulnerabilities in the back line –– so they could play a more compact style than usual to stop Atlanta United’s attacking talent. While Sporting will certainly attack more than some teams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Frank De Boer’s side will likely see a lot of the ball come Sunday. The key for Atlanta will be patience and composure. If Atlanta can build consistent pressure throughout the match and add the clinical bite to their possession play, they can find weaknesses against a side that has leaked in goals so far this year.
The match is set to kick off Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET from Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. You can watch the match on FS1, stream it on Fox Sports GO or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.