Prep Talk: Sporting KC vs. Cruz Azul FC

Fox Sports' Janusz Michallik previews Wednesday's season opener

With Sporting KC set to take on Cruz Azul FC Wednesday evening at Sporting Park, we caught up with Fox Sports broadcaster Janusz Michallik to preview the match. The match will kick off on Fox Sports 2 and Univision Deportes Network at 7 p.m. CT.

JF: Historically, MLS teams have not fared well against teams from Liga MX. Is the gap between the two leagues closing?
JM: First and foremost, I’m not sure the gap exists that much. We haven’t had a lot of success against Mexican teams, but I don’t think it’s something we can’t overcome. These are also the quarterfinals and this means a lot to Sporting KC. I spoke to [Sporting KC Manager] Peter Vermes and this could be the first MLS team to ever advance to the Club World Cup. It’s also super important to Cruz Azul.

Financially, Cruz Azul has more money than Kansas City. When you look at Cruz Azul, it’s a very rich club. You look at Marco Fabian, who is on loan from Chivas and Cruz Azul could easily offer them tons of money to purchase his contract. 

JF: How important is current form in league play heading into tonight's match?
JM: Very important. Cruz Azul is in form and Kansas City is not. The season just started, and when you look at the off-season, it’s a long one compared to other leagues around the world. You can train and you can prepare mentally, but some of the kinks need to be worked out under games with extreme pressure and that is something that MLS teams don’t have.

JF: How does Sporting KC match up with Cruz Azul?
JM: In my opinion, Cruz Azul is top heavy. They are an attacking-minded team with Mariano Pavone, Mauro Formica and Marco Fabian. I think that Kansas City could take advantage of the center of the midfield and behind the fullbacks. They do get involved and go forward. That is where Kansas City, with a little high press and an early ball out of the back, could do it.

You have to be well-organized, and while it’s easy to say that, you have to stay nice and tight in all formations and I think that first early ball, once Kansas City turns into transition, I think that is where they may have a chance. I don’t think Kansas City is going to out-possess Cruz Azul. It’s important not to conceded at home. You have to put yourself in a situation that gives you a chance to advance.

JF: Would Cruz Azul be content with a draw Wednesday night?
JM: In a match like this, you don’t just assume you will win. I think they will respect MLS and Sporting KC. They recognize the fact that if you look at our national teams and you look at what has happened in the past 20 years, they know American soccer is much better.

Just like any game, you hope to get that one goal early to put pressure on the opposition, but I don’t expect this to be a high-scoring game. Even if this ends nil-nil, I don’t think it’s great for either team because Kansas City will be capable of scoring a goal and putting the pressure on Cruz Azul next week in Mexico City.