As Sporting KC heads northeast for their first ever match against New York City FC, I caught up with journalist Dan Dickinson to preview Saturday's match. You check out Dan's work at Gothamist.com. The match will kick off at 6 p.m. CT with live coverage available on the 38 The Spot (KMCI) in Kansas City, SKCTV across the Midwest, 102.9 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
JF: How well has New York City FC played to start the season?
DD: I think they’ve gotten off to a good start for an expansion side. The two road games have been a little underwhelming. The first game against Orlando was in front of a big crowd and they were trying to establish a rhythm. In the second half, the goal from Mix [Diskerud] was pretty nicely worked and it was a bad deflection that made them give up the (win). The Colorado game—many teams struggle in this league making the trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. At times they looked lackluster and winded, but many teams do at this point in this season when playing at Colorado. At home against the Revs, they really tore up New England pretty badly. It was remarkable to watch that attack carve up the back four of New England for most of the match, and when New England went down to 10 men, it certainly didn’t help their chances.
JF: What are the different strengths that David Villa brings to the team?
DD: He has been that cornerstone of the attack that the team needs. Whether it’s him looking to give service to someone else or just the beautiful run he made against New England to get past a couple of defenders and into the box, he really does look sharp. He’s probably going to have a very good year in MLS.
JF: What is Mix Diskerud's impact on the team?
DD: He’s generally been playing out wide left in the midfield. He’s been pretty effective in his link-up with Villa and Adam Nemec to help generate the attack. He’s a really good passer and he’s able to find his way into the box and contribute to the attack himself. He’s been playing remarkably well for someone who hasn’t played in MLS before.
JF: Jason Kreis implemented a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield during his time at Real Salt Lake. Has he done the same at New York City FC?
DD: Jason has lamented that people make too much out of the 4-4-2. I don’t think he’s necessarily attached to it as a system. You do generally see NYC lining up in a 4-4-2 whether it’s a diamond [midfield] or not, and I think that’s proven pretty effective so far. They were doing a good job, especially against New England, about forcing turnovers in the midfield. It certainly does feel a bit like I remember Real Salt Lake playing under him.
JF: How does Sporting KC match up with New York City FC?
DD: The real challenge and opportunity for Sporting KC in this match is shutting down David Villa. Given that NYCFC is facing a lot of roster change for this particular match—they’ve got some suspensions and injuries and two on international duty—Jason Kreis is going to have to shuffle up the lineup. I’m not personally sure what the back line is going to look like. Who you pair with Villa up top will probably end up being Patrick Mullins. It’s going to be a little different, but the constant will be you’ll still have Mix and Villa. Sporting KC’s challenge is shutting them down. You can’t let Villa break through because he’s an excellent goal scorer. But the opportunity is the reshuffled back line. There might be some rookies who aren’t necessarily ready to go. If SKC can bring the attack to New York, there’s a possibility for some goals.
JF: Given the narrower field dimensions at Yankee Stadium, does that give Sporting KC an advantage with long throw-ins?
DD: You can definitely take advantage of the set pieces. That’s were NYC gave up their goal against Orlando. With the narrowness of the field at Yankee Stadium, it’s certainly an opportunity because run-of-play stuff may be a little difficult. A narrower field is certainly advantageous for those long throw-ins. And going back to the New England game, it’s not as if the Revs didn’t have chances. There were certainly opportunities to get behind the NYC defense.
JF: As an expansion team, what are New York City FC's expectations this season?
DD: There’s a high expectation among the ownership and fans, who are really out in force for the team already, to be a club that is going to make the playoffs. They have enough talent on the roster and they’ve got a great coach. Anything outside of making the playoffs, especially now that it’s six teams in each conference, would be kind of a disaster. This team is ready to compete, and I think it’s reasonable to see them finish in the top six. I don’t think they’re going to run away with the East—there are still a lot of questions in defense, and I’m personally very curious about what the insertion of Frank Lampard will bring. If you finally build a system that works and then you bring a new player in, it can be challenging as we’ve seen from Designated Players in the past.
JF: What are you most looking forward to in Saturday's match?
DD: It’s going to be interesting to see how New York continues to develop. They’re still a very new team. This is also the first time Kreis has really had to shake up the team and not use the first 11 as his first choice. On the SKC side, I know they’ve started a little flat and that’s not any way someone wants to start the season. I’d be interested to see if this is the game they really get going. Road wins, especially cross-conference, are big points if you can get them. SKC’s been a little unlucky in a couple of these games. But in terms of individual matchups, it’s going to be looking at a strong attack from each team against defenses that have been a little shaky to start the year.