Sporting Kansas City-Toronto FC Preview
Sporting Kansas City is pursuing the Eastern Conference's top seed as well as the Supporters' Shield, and Claudio Bieler is hoping to contribute to the cause by doing what he does best - score.
He'll look to help Sporting KC earn its third straight win overall and sixth in the last seven meetings with host Toronto FC on Saturday.
Bieler registered a goal in Kansas City's 3-0 win over Toronto on July 13, but he went scoreless in his next five league matches before scoring in a 3-0 victory over Columbus in the team's last MLS contest Sept. 7.
The forward is tied for fifth in the league with 10 goals, and he was happy to finally end his drought.
"I'm a forward. I need to be scoring goals," Bieler said. "I'm also happy that we won, and I need to keep on scoring."
Sporting KC, which got a goal in the 78th minute from Jacob Peterson to earn a 1-all draw with Real Esteli in CONCACAF Champions League play Tuesday, is tied with Montreal for second in the East - three points back of first-place New York.
Coach Peter Vermes' team is tied for the fewest goals allowed in MLS with 27 while ranking third in the conference with 41 scored. Its match against Columbus marked its first since selling forward Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough FC in England on Sept. 2.
"When you look at those stats and the way that we play and the work ethic within the team, all of that shows how this is a team effort," Vermes said.
Bieler also scored in KC's first meeting with Toronto, but it couldn't overcome a pair of goals from Robert Earnshaw in a 2-1 defeat March 9. Earnshaw, Toronto's leading scorer, is nursing a hamstring injury, though, and missed last Saturday's 2-0 loss to New York.
Earnshaw also may not play against Kansas City and second-leading scorer Jonathan Osorio is suspended for two games for his actions against New York last weekend, but Toronto (4-14-11) is hoping the return of forward Danny Koevermans will help provide a spark.
Koevermans has played only four matches after suffering a torn ACL last season, but he played 70 minutes with the reserve team last week and could be in Saturday's starting lineup.
"He did really well, and he has been training really well," coach Ryan Nelsen said. "So hopefully Danny will be all right and we'll see him on Saturday."
Toronto, though, is far out of the playoff race and is just 0-4-3 in its last seven matches while being outscored 13-4. Nelsen is hoping the return of Koevermans and potentially having another healthy forward in Bright Dike will help Toronto's scoring attack.
Dike entered in the 76th minute last Saturday and is coming along slowly while recovering from his own ACL injury.
"Maybe he will be able to play more (than last weekend)," Nelsen said. "We've just got to be careful with Bright. I know from a lot of experience with ACL injuries and recoveries, sometimes you can get a wee bit too greedy with them. And this is a time not to be greedy."
Toronto has been shut out six times while going 1-6-2 in the last nine meetings with Sporting Kansas City.