CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy relish the challenge Sporting Kansas City and their newfound dynamism up front will present in Sunday's StubHub Center showdown (9 pm ET | FS1 - Full TV & Streaming Info), but they're not necessarily buying the talk that Peter Vermes has altered his philosophy.
Kansas City (3-1-1) have their most versatile attacking group in some years, and Chilean midfielder Felipe Gutierrez is off to a terrific start in MLS, but you know what you're going to get when you take on Sporting, and what you're going to get is a difficult fight.
“They're one of the teams that has a very defined style of play,” midfielder Servando Carrasco said following the Galaxy's training session Thursday morning. “They're a high-pressing team. They play that 4-3-3, so we know what to expect, in terms of they're a team that likes to possess the ball. I think they are more dynamic this year than they were last year ... and we're expecting a very good team.”
Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid says Vermes is “a good enough coach that he adapts his coaching to his personnel,” and his personnel is dangerous. Gutierrez has caused havoc from the left side of midfield, scoring five goals in the past four games -- half of KC's season total -- and playing a key role in a few others.
Fellow newcomers Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton and Yohan Croizet are providing greater options up front, and Daniel Salloi has blossomed into a fine creative player. And although Sporting have conceded nine goals already, as many as they gave up in their first 13 matches last year, the experience and talent they employ at the back is among the league's best.
“They're a little more open,” Schmid said. “They really push their outside backs really high -- Graham Zusi, especially, comes high."
However, Schimd added, using the triangle of holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez and center backs Ike Opara and Matt Besler continues to be a key element of how Kansas City defend.
Schmid does think Sporting's attacking options are a bit more diverse.
“Certainly, offensively they have more variety. In past years, you thought, OK, it's eventually going to go to [former Sporting striker] Dom Dwyer at the end of the play. Now there's more options. It could be at Gutierrez's feet, it could be at Russell's feet. It could be at Salloi, it could be at [Diego] Rubio. It could be at different options.”
Gutierrez, who is questionable after sustaining a hip injury in last weekend's win over D.C. United, has impressed Schmid with his game-changing ability.
“He's clinical. He's a very good player,” LA midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “It seems every team nowadays has a guy who can beat you single-handedly, and certainly he [can do that]. Our hands are going to be full, but saying that, we just have to defend him well together and try to keep him off the ball as much as possible.”
The Galaxy (2-1-1) are coming off an emotional, come-from-behind victory over new crosstown rival LAFC in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's spectacular debut, and the team is healthier than it's been in weeks. Everyone except perhaps Giovani dos Santos and Bradford Jamieson IV is expected to be available, and LA are up for whatever Sporting might bring.
“KC always has a good attack,” goalkeeper David Bingham said. “They're always organized, and that's no different this year. They're going to be a tough challenge for us on the weekend. ... We have to be organized overall as unit, and if we do that, we're going to be very hard to break down.”