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Eastern Conference Championship

Preview: SKC, DC clash amid early playoff position jockeying

A massive clash for playoff positioning is ahead at Livestrong Sporting Park when Sporting Kansas City play host to D.C. United on Sunday evening. Sporting have used their long homestand to rise up the Eastern Conference table, and now hold one of the three automatic qualifying spots. But they are just two points ahead of United, who are currently outside the wild card spots, but only on goal difference. Both teams are coming off good results at midweek, SKC defeating Portland 3-1 at home, and United coming back for a 1-1 draw on the road against Chicago.

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REFEREE: Alex Prus. SAR (bench): George Gansner; JAR (opposite): Jason Cullum; 4th: Ismail Elfath MLS Career: 186 games; FC/gm: 27.3; Y/gm: 3.2; R: 42; pens: 50

INJURY REPORT: SPORTING KANSAS CITY – OUT: MF Davy Arnaud (sports hernia surgery); DF Aurelien Collin (lower back fracture); DF Daneil Cyrus (L foot fracture); MF Craig Rocastle (R knee sprain); MF Luke Sassano (R knee sprain); MF Konrad Warzycha (R knee surgery); DOUBTFUL: MF Jeferson (R quad strain); PROBABLE: FW Soony Saad (L hip strain)

D.C. UNITED – OUT: MF Branko Boskovic (L knee ACL tear); DF Jed Zayner (L knee sprain); DOUBTFUL: GK Bill Hamid (R hamstring strain); PROBABLE: GK Joe Willis (back spasms)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: KC: Aurelien Collin
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: KC: Omar Bravo, Julio Cesar, Birahim Diop ... DC: Austin da Luz, Charlie Davies, Dwayne De Rosario, Brandon McDonald, Ethan White

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (41 meetings): Sporting 14 wins (0 shootout), 65 goals ... United 18 wins (1 shootout), 60 goals ... Ties 9 
AT KC (1 meeting): Sporting 14 wins (0 shootout), 65 goals ... United 18 wins (1 shootout), 60 goals ... Ties 9 

RETURN MATCH: 10/22: D.C. United vs. Sporting Kansas City, 7:30 p.m. ET

LAST YEAR (MLS) 3/27: KC 4, DC 0 (Kamara 9; Arnaud 35; Smith 54; Jewsbury 70) 5/5: DC 2, KC 1 (Allsopp 12, 34 – Kamara 90)

  • The visiting team has not won in the series since 2007, when both D.C. and Kansas City won at the other’s stadium. The teams split their two meetings a season ago. United have won the last three meetings at RFK Stadium, since KC’s 4-2 win April 14, 2007.

Coaches record: Peter Vermes vs. DC: P4 W1 L2 D1 ... Ben Olsen v KC: first game

SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Sporting Kansas City regained their home form after a long layoff, rolling to a 3-1 victory against the Portland Timbers on Wednesday evening at Livestrong Sporting Park. Sporting have 33 points from 24 matches on the season, now in third place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • Sporting took the lead after 25 minutes. A header from Chance Myers was cleared out of the area, but only as far as Graham Zusi, who teed the ball up from 25 yards and unleashed a spectacular drive into the top corner.
  • SKC doubled their advantage five minutes before the half. C.J. Sapong flicked on Matt Besler’s long throw-in, but Portland 'keeper Troy Perkins saved Teal Bunbury’s first-time shot at the back post. But the rebound fell right to Zusi and he tucked it away from short range.
  • The home side tacked on a third in strange fashion in the 72nd minute when center back Eric Brunner tried to clear a through ball for Soony Saad, but his clearance struck the rookie perfectly and looped an inch-perfect chip over scrambling Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
  • The Timbers pulled a goal back in the 81st minute when Rodney Wallace drove a low ball across the penalty area, finding Bright Dike, who somehow slipped a first-time deflection past SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and inside the far post.
  • Sporting manager Peter Vermes made four changes to the team that lost 2-1 to Seattle Sounders FC at Livestrong Sporting Park. Chance Myers came in for Michael Harrington in the back, Roger Espinoza and Milos Stojcev started for Birahim Diop and Jeferson in midfield, and Teal Bunbury started for the suspended Omar Bravo.
  • SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-2-1-3): Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Julio Cesar, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic (Michael Harrington 75) - Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza - Milos Stojcev (Soony Saad 63) - Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury (Korede Aiyegbusi 92+), C.J. Sapong.

TEAM NEWS

  • It was the third win in five games of the nine-game homestand for Sporting, who still do not face a road match until Sept. 17 at Real Salt Lake.  “I thought from the opening whistle we looked solid. One of our goals was to try to get not only the first shot but get the first couple attacks on them quickly to put them under pressure and to make them feel us. I thought we were pretty dangerous,” said KC manager Peter Vermes.
  • Graham Zusi scored a pair of goals in a game for the second time this season (also: June 12 vs. FC Dallas). It was the seventh time this season a Sporting player has scored multiple goals in a game.
  • Rookie Soony Saad made his MLS debut, coming on in the 63rd minute, and nine minutes later he scored his first professional goal. “I think tonight was a great opportunity for him to step out on the field. A credit to him that he understands where he is in the pecking order,” Vermes said. “I think that you’ll see more and more of him as time goes on because he’s been doing a very good job not only with himself but with the way he fits in with the team.”
  • Scoring on his 19th birthday, Saad became the youngest player in MLS history to score on his date of birth.
  • For a second consecutive game, and a fourth time this season, a long throw-in from Matt Besler led to a Sporting goal. Two have come in the matches vs. Portland this season, home and away; Besler has been credited with assists on two occasions.
  • “It’s a dangerous play. Right now, we feel like it’s just like a corner kick,” Besler said. “With Kei [Kamara] and C.J. [Sapong] up there, I pretty much just have to throw it within five feet of them and they’ll go up and get it. We’re going to continue to use it, and hopefully we can get more goals off of it.”
  • Sporting do not have another quick turnaround until Sept. 28, when they play at midweek after playing the previous Friday. The long layoff before the Portland game helped after playing twice in four days Aug. 3-6.
  • “A week and a half is really big for us,” said Zusi. “Other teams are turning around and playing again only after a few days, but tonight we were able to kind of let loose a little bit. After a week rolls around, you’re really itching to play again. We really wanted to come out at home and win another game.”

D.C. UNITED
D.C. United extended their undefeated streak to four games, coming back for a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire on Thursday evening at Toyota Park. United have 31 points from 23 games on the year, sitting in a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • The Fire took the lead in the 59th minute. Patrick Nyarko rounded Dejan Jakovic on the right flank and sent in a curling cross that United defender Daniel Woolard could only flick into the path of a wide open Grazzini at the back post, and he side-volleyed a shot off substitute goalkeeper Steve Cronin’s hands.
  • But United pulled even 14 minutes later. Dwayne De Rosario's deflected cross found Josh Wolff in the area, and after a quick one-two with Quaranta back at the edge of the 18, Wolff hammered the return pass into the roof of the goal from the corner of the six-yard box.
  • United coach Ben Olsen made two changes to the team that defeated Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4-0 at RFK Stadium. Bill Hamid returned to goalkeeping duties ahead of Joe Willis, and Stephen King came back into the midfield for Santino Quaranta.
  • D.C. UNITED (4-4-2): Bill Hamid (Steve Cronin 46) - Perry Kitchen, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Daniel Woolard - Andy Najar, Clyde Simms, Stephen King (Santino Quaranta 71), Chris Pontius - Charlie Davies (Josh Wolff 60), Dwayne De Rosario

TEAM NEWS

  • United enters the weekend level for the final wild-card spot on 31 points, along with the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls hold the tiebreaker on goal difference, after the teams split their two meetings this year, but United do have two points in hand.
  • “That competitiveness and this desire that this team has is still something that will carry us into the next 10, 11 games left,” Josh Wolff said. “Obviously wins are great, but (in Chicago) it wasn’t easy, and to come away with something is a positive.”
  • The United goal came from two substitutes –Wolff, who came on for Charlie Davies, and Santino Quaranta, who came on for Stephen King. Wolff had missed three of the previous five matches entirely – the only league games he’s missed all season, while Quaranta was coming off back-to-back starts, his first since making two straight starts in early April.
  • “You can't ask for anything more from two substitutes coming on, giving 100 percent and getting us back in the game,” said Dwayne De Rosario.
  • United boss Ben Olsen was forced into a first substitution at halftime when goalkeeper Bill Hamid, back in the lineup after a one-game suspension, suffered a hamstring injury just before the break.
  • "You never like to see your ‘keeper go down with a hamstring injury and when you look it as a coach in a game like this where you spent 45 minutes pretty much defending, so you lose a sub,” Olsen said. ”We only had two subs left in the game, so it's not an ideal situation, but it is what it is and we just move forward to getting him healthy and getting ready for Sunday."
  • Joe Willis, who was selected ahead of Steve Cronin to deputize between the posts in Hamid’s absence, did not make the trip to Chicago with back spasms. Cronin played the second half and is expected to start against Sporting Kansas City.
  • “It was a tough week for me,” Cronin said to The Washington Post. “There was a small lack of communication between the coaching staff and myself, but we got past that pretty quickly and Joe played great last week. I had a great week of training this week and felt prepared coming in (against Chicago).”
  • Although allowing the opening goal, United have conceded just five goals in the last seven games – three of those coming in the wild draw vs. Toronto FC.
  • “We’re focused, concentrating for the whole 90 [minutes] and not just the back four,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “We’re defending as a team and also punishing teams.”