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Toronto FC vs Sporting Kansas City | 2017 MLS Match Preview

Toronto FC vs. Sporting Kansas City
2017 MLS Regular Season
BMO Field - Toronto
Friday, March 31 - 7:30 p.m. ET
WATCH: FS1 and FOX Deportes in USA, TSN in Canada
Depending on injuries and managerial decisions after the recent round of World Cup qualifying, this could be a match without some of each team's biggest contributors. What's not in doubt is that Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City find themselves in the same situation heading into Friday night's nationally televised meeting: still unbeaten this season, but fifth in their respective conferences after taking just five points from their first three matches.
Coincidentally, each team opened with two draws before notching their first win -- TFC 2-0 over Vancouver and Sporting 2-1 over San Jose, both on March 18.

Sporting are not unused to their spot, having finished either fifth or sixth in the West for three years running. The Reds, though, were expecting better things to open 2017 after becoming the first Canadian team to reach an MLS Cup Final last year.

Reds manager Greg Vanney and his Sporting counterpart, Peter Vermes, have some questions to ask and answer as they draw up their XIs. Each will, obviously, have to assess their international returnees -- but Vermes is also waiting to see whether veteran playmaker Benny Feilhaber, whose wonder goal finally opened Sporting's account after two weeks' worth of 0-0 draws, will be healthy enough to take the pitch.

Toronto FC

The Reds will be getting back midfield general Michael Bradley, striker Jozy Altidore and midfielder Armando Cooper, all of whom featured in recent qualifying -- including Tuesday night's hard-fought 1-1 draw in Panama City between the United States and Panama.

The good news is that attacker Sebastian Giovinco, who missed one game with a leg contusion sustained in a 2-2 draw with Philadelphia on March 11, is back with no apparent lingering ill effects. That's big, especially if Vanney decides to rest Altidore and Jordan Hamilton, who is coming off a tournament in Qatar with Canada's Under-23 team.

If the Reds' offensive contributors are all out there, this could be a strength-to-strength matchup against Sporting's stifling defense. If not, the Atomic Ant might have to work some free-kick magic to deliver three points at home -- and get his own production line moving again, as he has not recorded a goal or an assist yet this year.

  • Suspended: None
  • International Duty: None
  • Injury Report: OUT: Ashtone Morgan (stress fracture in foot)
  • Projected Starting XI (3-5-2): Clint Irwin (GK) – Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund – Steven Beitashour, Armando Cooper, Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Justin Morrow – Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore

Note:  Including last season’s run to the MLS Cup Final, Toronto have lost just two of their last nine home games (one in PKs). Toronto have averaged 1.8 goals per game over that stretch (4W-2L-3D) and have three clean sheets.

Sporting Kansas City

The midfield could be a big question mark for the visitors, with Feilhaber (whose 10 chances created this season lead MLS) set to miss the match due to a tight hamstring that kept him out of training earlier this week and Roger Espinoza coming off his international stint with Honduras. If neither are good to go on Friday, that's two-thirds of the starters out -- and Sporting don't have a comparable box-to-box engine like Espinoza or a second-choice playmaker like Feilhaber in the tank. D-Mid whiz Ilie Sanchez could pick up some of the slack -- and, depending on whether and where Soni Mustivar plays, could take on some creative duties.

On the back line, things are more settled. Center back Matt Besler did not feature in the qualifiers, and Vermes has two capable choices behind right back Graham Zusi in Saad Abdul-Salaam and Igor Juliao.

As ever this season, the challenge will be to maintain the club's early defensive dominance (one goal conceded through three games) while trying to kick-start an offense that has scored just twice this season -- with one of those an own goal.

  • Suspended: None
  • International Duty: None
  • Injury Report: OUT - Diego Rubio (ACL), Benny Feilhaber (hamstring tightness)
  • Projected Starting XI (4-4-3): Tim Melia (GK) – Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi – Roger Espinoza, Soni Mustivar, Ilie – Gerso Fernandes, Dom Dwyer, Jimmy Medranda

Note: Sporting Kansas City have won one of their last 16 away regular season matches (9L-6D), going scoreless in 10 of those games and scoring multiple goals just three times.

All-Time Series

Sporting have a commanding lead in the series, with 14 wins to TFC's four. There have been five draws.

  • At Toronto: Toronto FC 3 wins, 8 goals; Sporting KC 5 wins, 10 goals; 3 draws
  • At Sporting: Sporting KC 9 wins, 27 goals; Toronto FC 1 win, 10 goals; 2 draws


  • Referee: Alan Kelly:
  • Assistant Referee, near side: Matthew Nelson
  • Assistant Referee, far side: Logan Brown
  • Fourth Official: Silviu Petrescu