Toronto FC-Sporting Kansas City Preview
If all goes right for Sporting Kansas City, the club will move atop the Eastern Conference standings on Saturday night.
Toronto FC is facing a much steeper climb.
After earning seven of nine points during a nine-day stretch that ended with Sunday's 2-1 victory over Chicago, Kansas City (8-5-6) has moved within one point of East-leading Montreal, which plays at New York on Saturday night.
"We're doing what we wanted to do, which was climb up the standings and put ourselves in a good position," All-Star midfielder Graham Zusi told MLS' official website Sunday after following up Benny Feilhaber's first goal of the season with his first in two months.
Sporting, 2-0-2 since a 2-1 home loss to the Impact, will get its second look at Toronto FC (2-8-7). Robert Earnshaw netted both goals for the Reds in a 2-1 home win March 9 that ended a four-game losing streak to Kansas City, which also had its seven-game point streak in this matchup snapped.
Toronto, though, has gone 1-7-7 since that victory, with its only win coming against league-worst D.C. United on June 15. The Reds ended the first half of the season with a 3-all draw with Montreal on July 3, but finishing off games remains an issue as they conceded goals in the 69th and 70th minutes in settling for one point.
Of the 24 goals given up by Toronto, 11 have come after the 61st minute, including Claudio Bieler's score in its March victory. These late-game lapses can't continue if the club is to earn its first postseason berth.
Having English defender Richard Eckersley (hamstring) back for the first time in three months could start shoring up the club's back line.
"We need to start winning games," captain Darren O'Dea told Toronto's official website. "If we manage to get a win on the board, we'll try to make it two and three and go on a run. But you need one win first to start a run, so that's where we'll need to start. Hopefully that will start on Saturday."
Striker Danny Koevermans (calf) won't make the trip, and he could be out a couple weeks, but Earnshaw, the team leader with six goals, is expected back after missing two matches with a calf injury.
The Reds, though, are 1-5-2 on the road and heading to a stadium O'Dea called "the toughest place to go in the league."
Sporting, 4-3-2 against visiting teams, has won four straight at home over Toronto, most recently a 2-1 win Sept. 21 with Oriol Rosell delivering the decisive goal in the 87th minute.
Midfielder Michael Thomas could make his Toronto debut after being acquired from Kansas City on July 2 for a second-round pick in the 2015 SuperDraft.
Bobby Convey also returns after Sporting dealt him to the Reds in May for a 2014 supplemental draft pick. He assisted on Jeremy Brockie's goal in last week's draw versus Montreal.