With three consecutive away matches on the horizon, D.C. United have a golden chance to secure three points at Audi Field on Sunday against a Sporting Kansas side decimated by injuries. First kick is set for 7 PM ET, with the match nationally televised on FS1.
Sporting KC will be making their first visit to Audi Field since it opened last July. They have been difficult for the Black-and-Red to overcome in the District in recent years, losing on just one occasion in the last seven visits. The teams’ last meeting came in March of 2018 at Children’s Mercy Park, where Sporting prevailed 1-0 through a Felipe Gutierrez strike after just three minutes.
D.C. find themselves in second place in the Eastern Conference following the Philadelphia Union’s 2-1 win against Toronto FC on Saturday, but they can draw level on 23 points with a positive result Sunday night. They returned to winning ways by way of a 3-1 result against the Columbus Crew last Saturday, with no shortage of VAR controversy, and the home fans will be eager to see more of the same before Ben Olsen’s men return to take on Spanish outfit Real Betis in a friendly on May 22. Sporting arrives on a five-match winless run, with their latest setback coming in the form of a 3-0 home loss to Atlanta United a week ago.
In recent weeks, Olsen has used a three center back formation, due to a plethora of injuries at outside back, and the emergence of rookie Homegrown center back Donovan Pines. However, Pines is now sidelined with a knee injury he suffered against the Crew, meaning that Olsen will likely return to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, with new signing Marquinhos Pedroso sliding in at left back.
The Brazilian defender made the bench last weekend, shortly after his move to the nation's capital from FC Dallas. Pedroso was brought in to help cover for Joseph Mora, who has yet to return to action since breaking his jaw on March 31 against Orlando City.
Although SKC have struggled in recent weeks and haven’t earned three points since March 30, the attacking unit is fully capable of scoring goals and spread the love in doing so. Krisztian Nemeth leads the side with six league goals to his name, and both Felipe Gutierrez and Johnny Russell are not too far behind with four goals apiece.
However, Sporting has had a torrid time of late defending their own goal. Since their last win, a 7-1 demolition of the Montreal Impact on March 30, Kansas City have conceded 24 goals in seven games, including 10 goals in two games to Monterrey in the Champions League, as they bowed out of the competition in the semifinals.
Sporting manager Peter Vermes prefers to employ a 4-3-3 look and his side’s ventures forward have favored the left side of the field. However, injuries have hit the visitors harder than any other side through the first two months of play. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are questionable for Sunday's tilt, but the following players will be out due to injury: Roger Espinoza (PCL strain), Gerso Fernandes (broken wrist), Andreu Fontas (calf injury), Erik Hurtado (knee injury), Jaylin Lindsey (torn meniscus), Jimmy Medranda (knee injury), Rodney Wallace (hip injury), and Wan Kuzain (ankle injury).
In addition, Gianluca Busio, who is fourth in the team in league goals this year, is away with the U.S. U-17 team for the Concacaf U-17 Championship, along with United's young winger, Griffin Yow.
Vermes did receive quite the boost this week when the club completed a deal to bring Benny Feilhaber back to Children’s Mercy Park. The 34-year-old enjoyed the best spell of his career in Kansas City from 2013 to 2017, tallying 33 goals and 56 assists while playing a significant role in their 2013 MLS Cup triumph and U.S. Open Cup wins in 2015 and 2017.
Predicted D.C. United XI (4-2-3-1): Bill Hamid; Marquinhos Pedroso, Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant; Leonardo Jara; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Lucas Rodriguez, Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola; Wayne Rooney