Sporting Kansas City-Crew Preview
Sporting Kansas City is making a strong push toward its second U.S. Open Cup title.
The club is also eyeing the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Sporting goes for its third straight shutout win across all competitions Saturday night when it faces a Columbus Crew team looking for its first 4-0 run at home since 2010.
Coming off a scoreless draw against Houston in its previous MLS match last Saturday that moved it into a first-place conference tie with D.C., Sporting Kansas City (10-5-3) won 2-0 at Philadelphia on Wednesday behind goals from Jacob Peterson and All-Star midfielder Graham Zusi.
Sporting advanced to its first U.S. Open Cup final since winning the tournament in 2004 and will host Seattle on Aug. 8 with a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League at stake.
"From the first second to the last, I thought the defending by our team ... I'd give it a 10," coach Peter Vermes told Sporting Kansas City's official website. "It was perfect. We didn't give up one good chance all night."
Including two U.S. Open Cup matches, All-Star Jimmy Nielsen has given up two goals in the last five games. He is tied for second in MLS with seven shutouts.
Kansas City, though, has been shut out three times in its last four league matches.
"You want to score, for sure," Vermes said, "but you can't mistake performance for what the result is at the end of the day."
The Crew (6-6-4) haven't enjoyed their recent results, dropping two of three following a 3-0-3 run.
"I expect us to bounce back," coach Robert Warzycha told the Crew's official website following Sunday's 2-1 loss at Montreal. "As I said to the players, if you lose make sure you leave everything on the field and work for it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
Columbus hasn't lost in its past three matches on its own pitch. The Crew's last four-game home winning streak was March 27-May 15, 2010.
"We've been fairly good at home recently, so we've got to try to carry that on and make (Crew Stadium) a fortress," midfielder Chris Birchall said.
The Crew are 5-1-1 in Kansas City's last seven visits.
Columbus, which has scored an Eastern Conference-low 17 goals, could get a lift if striker Jairo Arrieta makes his MLS debut. Arrieta notched 45 goals in 161 appearances for Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa before joining the Crew this season.
"He adds a little bit of creativity up top that I think sometimes we're missing," said midfielder Eddie Gaven, who has a team-leading four goals.
Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, a Kansas City native, is 2-0-1 in three starts in this series, with the last two coming in 2009.
Gruenebaum, like Nielsen, has played every minute of his team's matches this season. The Crew and Sporting KC have allowed 17 goals, tied for fewest in MLS.